Police brutality is common in South Africa, with an estimated 5,500 cases reported annually.
A video showing armed plainclothes officers dragging a man from a car at the weekend and stomping on his head until he lay motionless has outraged South Africans and drawn more attention to the country’s problem with police brutality.
The officers are part of the security team protecting South Africa Deputy President Paul Mashatile, his office said on Tuesday.
Mashatile’s office said in a statement that the incident happened in Johannesburg, and added that he “abhors any unnecessary use of force, particularly against unarmed civilians”.
The 45-second video was recorded by a person in another car not involved in the incident, and posted to Twitter.
The video shows the officers, some holding rifles, dragging the man across a road and brutalising him until he was unconscious and lay motionless on his back. The officers were also seen kicking another man, who holds his hands over his head to protect himself.
The police protection unit, known in South Africa as the “blue light brigade”, has a reputation for using unnecessary force. The unit is known for fast driving along highways and reacting with force if other drivers don’t immediately recognise the small blue sirens on their cars and move out of the way.
After the incident, the officers, who are part of a dedicated police unit tasked with protecting South African politicians and other VIPs, got into two black SUVs and drove away.
At least seven police officers, some of them wearing suits, were involved and the video shows at least three of them kicking and stomping on the men. Two of the officers seen kicking them are holding rifles while the third has a pistol in his hand.
The video shows a third man also lying on the side of the road. It is not clear if he was also beaten. A woman is seen getting out of the car and holding her hands above her head during the incident.
Amid an outcry, national police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said in a statement on Tuesday that the police officers have been identified “and will be subjected to internal processes”.
Police had also “successfully traced the victims of this incident,” Mathe said, and they were being interviewed.
Mathe also posted the video on her Twitter account. She wrote in an earlier tweet that “Police officers are meant to uphold and protect the fundamental rights of every person … Such behaviour cannot be condoned.”
It is not clear what led to the incident as the car had already been pulled over by the time the video started.
One of the most notorious incidents of police brutality in South Africa was in 2012, when 34 miners were killed when police fired on them with assault rifles during a strike over wages and conditions. In a more recent incident in 2020, a man was beaten to death at his home by soldiers as police watched on.
The independent body that deals with misconduct by police investigated 3,407 cases of unlawful assault by officers in the 2021-2022 financial year, a rate of nearly 10 a day. Other reports also put the number of complaints of police brutality at more than 5,500 annually.