Madiba’s SAPS bodyguard fields the key questions about brutal Mashatile detail

South Africans have reacted strongly to the video of a SAPS VIP policy protection unit dragging and gang-beating a motorist on the side of a major highway. Rory Steyn, who was the co-head of the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) that looked after Nelson Mandela, answers the key questions and shares how PPU alumni view the actions of deputy president Paul Mashatile’s security detail. He spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews. – Alec Hogg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:42 – Rory Steyn on if he’s seen the video
  • 01:24 – On if he’s come across anything like this in his long career in private protection
  • 04:55 – On his tight knit Whatsapp group of former presidential unit officers
  • 05:48 – Would Paul Mashatile have had any say in the cops who protected him
  • 07:31 – On the possibility that Paul Mashatile was in the vehicle
  • 08:58 – On Ian Cameron’s plea that the blue light mafia should be banned and whether he agrees
  • 10:59 – If the deputy president was not in the vehicle. Would it then be justified to put your blue light on
  • 12:19 – On if the perpetrators should be arrested
  • 13:26 – If he was a police officer saw this kind of incident happening as a police officer, would you not be duty bound to arrest the people who were perpetrating that violence
  • 15:57 – The VIP protection services rapid budget increase since 2000
  • 20:31 – Conclusions

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Edited transcript of the interview

Alec Hogg: Well, the big story used to be Eskom. All of a sudden, the VIP protection units for politicians have bumped that off the front page or the proverbial front page. And who better to talk us through what’s going on there than Rory Steyn. He’s the former chief of security for Nelson Mandela, co-founder of NSA Global Security Consultants, and a speaker at the past VizNews conference. Rory joins us now. Okay, silly question. Have you seen the video?

Rory Steyn: Yes, good afternoon Alec and to everybody watching or listening.

Alec Hogg: Really good to see you again, Rory.

Rory Steyn: Likewise.

Alec Hogg: That video, though, wasn’t very good to see. In fact, the interview that Chris Steyn, my colleague, did with Ian Cameron, which has just gone nuts. I think it was more than 60,000 people had seen it within the first 24 hours. YouTube has asked us to put an age restriction of 18 plus on it because of the violence that was shown, which some motorists actually videoed and picked up. Have you come across anything like this in your long career in private protection or protection of VIPs?

Rory Steyn: Not personally, Alec. Of course, that video evokes images of George Floyd and other similar incidents, but nothing that I’ve been exposed to, no.

Alec Hogg: Can you give us some thoughts or perhaps help us understand what happened before the video? What would have occurred perhaps?

Rory Steyn: I don’t want to speak to that, Alec, because it’s pure speculation on my behalf. There are two sides to every story, and there may well have been provocation. However, police officers are held to a higher standard, especially those serving in a protective capacity. They protect a principle. The critical lesson here is that we, the former Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) officers, feel responsible for upholding the standards we built over time. Seeing an incident like this destroys it all. While I can’t speak to what happened prior to the video, during our time protecting President Mandela, we understood our responsibility to protect his reputation, image, and legacy. Any action we took would reflect on those aspects. It’s now evident that the incident involving the protectors assigned to the Deputy President doesn’t reflect well on him. People will be looking to him and his leadership to see how this is addressed. This is unacceptable on every level and tarnishes our image. We are not happy with what we saw.

Read more: Ban the blue light mafia – Ian Cameron

Alec Hogg: I appreciate that sentiment. It really does bring into focus the whole question of police conduct, particularly in the public sector. So, I think that’s the biggest challenge. Are you a tight-knit group?

Rory Steyn: Absolutely, and you’ll find that consistency across many special forces teams, where people who have gone through tough times or trials develop a strong bond. In our case, we were mortal enemies initially. We were a group of white cops trying to arrest soldiers from liberation movements who were trying to evade us. History threw us together and tasked us with protecting the most famous human being on the planet. Despite our differences, we found respect, professionalism, and a camaraderie that is hard to define if you weren’t there. We’re very proud of that.

Alec Hogg: Would Paul Mashatile have had any say in the cops who protected him?

Rory Steyn: I believe so, although I cannot speculate as I wasn’t a witness to it. In my own case, when I was asked by the commander of the PPU to apply for a vacancy, I was immediately presented to Madiba as my principal. So, I would think that leaders in such positions would have people they’re comfortable with and could make a strong case for incorporating them into their protection personnel. Therefore, my assumption is that he would have had a say.

Alec Hogg: I’m interested in this line of questioning because there are reports that Mashatile was in the vehicle, although it’s now been denied. But if he were in the vehicle, hypothetically speaking, and ordered the protection unit to engage in violence due to anger or pressure, would they have the right to refuse or would they have to comply?

Rory Steyn: Absolutely not. No police officer is obligated to follow an illegal command. I can’t envision that kind of behavior being carried out in front of the principal. If it did happen, I’m confident the deputy president would have had a lot to say about it. I highly doubt it, Alec.

Alec Hogg: Let’s hope and pray he wasn’t in the car because if he was, it would be very concerning.

Rory Steyn: Correct.

Read more: Paul Mashatile: The internal player

Alec Hogg: Ian Cameron of Action Society suggests banning the “blue light mafia.” What are your thoughts on that?

Rory Steyn: Banning blue light motorcades would be extreme and incorrect. The issue lies in the abuse of blue lights, not their existence. Motorcades with multiple vehicles utilizing blue lights are appropriate for VIP protection and are common worldwide without violating citizens’ rights.

Alec Hogg: Understood.

Rory Steyn: Therefore, the solution is to ensure that the rules governing blue light motorcades are consistently and strictly followed in a professional manner. No one should be pushed off the road, and every citizen has the same right to be on the road as a VIP. Lights and sirens should only be used when necessary for the safety of the principal or other road users. The purpose can also include alerting other drivers to the presence of an emergency vehicle. However, there is no justification for late activation of lights and sirens or for forcefully maneuvering through traffic. So, banning blue light motorcades is not the answer. Training and discipline should focus on their professional and appropriate use.

Alec Hogg: That clarifies it. Now, let’s consider a scenario where the Deputy President was not in the vehicle. Would it be justified to use blue lights, for instance, when driving for other non-emergency reasons?

Rory Steyn: Absolutely not. If you are not fulfilling your duty to protect the principal, there would be very few extreme cases where the use of lights and sirens would be justified. Those cases would typically involve law enforcement actions. For example, if you witness a crime or an urgent situation that requires immediate police action. Otherwise, when commuting to work, lights and sirens should not be activated. Once at work, the use of lights and sirens in the motorcade with the principal should only occur if necessary.

Alec Hogg: Many questions still need answers, and Ian Cameron suggests that if he were the police commissioner, the officers would have been arrested. They have been suspended for now. What are your thoughts on this, considering the public outcry?

Rory Steyn: I believe both arrest and suspension would be appropriate given the circumstances. The key principle here is that there must be a disciplinary or judicial process followed. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Whether the situation called for immediate arrest on the scene or suspension pending investigation and proceedings after they left the scene, both actions are suitable as long as there are consequences for their actions. The disciplinary proceedings should commence and reach a conclusion.

Alec Hogg: As a police officer, if you encountered such an incident while on duty, would you be obligated to arrest the perpetrators?

Rory Steyn: Absolutely. If other police officers arrived at the scene while an assault was taking place, they would be well within their rights and likely should make an immediate arrest. However, if the perpetrators had already left the scene, the facts would need to be assessed, and the disciplinary process would be followed according to police regulations and standing orders. It could involve suspension or, after the fact, the arrest of the perpetrators for further proceedings. Fairness, a proper procedure, and justice must be ensured in this case.

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Alec Hogg: It’s interesting to consider what would have happened if there hadn’t been someone filming the incident and sharing it on social media. How would the victim of the assault seek justice without the video evidence?

Rory Steyn: When it comes to cases like this, it is a common occurrence for victims of assault to go to their local police station and register a case. They provide their statement, which is recorded and assigned to an investigating officer. The case will then be investigated, and a prosecutor from the NPA will make a decision based on the evidence. This holds true whether or not there is video evidence of the incident. It is the right of the victim to seek justice.

Alec Hogg: Indeed, it makes you wonder how far the case would have gone without the video. Moving on, Rory, after your time in VIP protection services, the budget increased significantly. The allocation rose from R138 million in 2000 to R1.9 billion today – after accounting for inflation that’s a real terms increase of four and a quarter times. Were you massively under-resourced back then?

Rory Steyn: While I can’t speculate without all the facts, I can tell you that any increase in expenditure should be justified based on the needs and risks involved. It’s not about continuing with the same resources for everyone. We should assess the individual’s risk and deploy resources accordingly to mitigate that risk. That should be the modern benchmark. Proper equipping, professional resourcing, and effective training are crucial, not only in VIP protection but across the entire police force. We need intelligence-informed training to stay ahead of criminals. Our police officers deserve proper resources and support, and it’s the responsibility of senior management to ensure their well-being. Properly resourcing our police officers is essential for their job in protecting us.

Alec Hogg: One big lesson from all of this is the prevalence of cameras. There’s always someone ready to capture an incident on video.

Rory Steyn: Indeed, it’s surprising that anyone would behave inappropriately or unprofessionally, especially knowing that cameras are everywhere. It’s beyond comprehension.

Alec Hogg: Do your colleagues in the PPU group share the same sentiment, or are you alone in expressing your own views publicly?

Rory Steyn: Some of my colleagues have already spoken out in the media. However, I can confidently say that the messaging in our group is consistent. Nobody justifies or condones such behavior.

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