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Two policemen with the VIP Protection Unit, who used blue lights and fired shots in the air to bully a motorist on the N3, were found guilty of reckless and negligent driving and the negligent discharge of a firearm in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Despite the guilty verdict, Magistrate Chris van Vuuren’s decision to find Hlanganani Nxumalo not guilty on six counts of attempted murder is certain to anger the victims of the November 2008 crash.
Nxumalo fired the shots in the air.
Van Vuuren found that the State had not proven Nxumalo had the intention to kill the occupants of the car when he fired two shots.
Nxumalo was convicted of the unlawful discharge of a firearm while his co-accused, Caiphus Ndlela, the driver of the state-owned VW Golf GTI, was found guilty of reckless and negligent driving.
Nxumalo’s actions frightened motorist Anuvasen Moodley, causing him to lose control of his Mazda which veered into oncoming traffic and collided with a bakkie, the court found.
All six occupants of the Mazda were injured, two seriously.
The collision occurred on the N3, near Ashburton.
Van Vuuren said being late to pick up an MEC for a meeting is a self-inflicted emergency that does not allow for VIP unit drivers to break the rules of the road.
The evidence led during the trial was that Nxumalo fired two warning shots because, according to him, the driver of the Mazda had been “braking in front of him, switching lanes and trying to push his vehicle off the road”.
Nxumalo said that he feared for his life and believed the driver was trying to run them off the road.
The VIP members were on their way to pick up MEC Meshack Radebe from Hillcrest to take him to a meeting when the incident happened.
Van Vuuren accepted the evidence of Moodley and his passengers as the truth, and found that the versions of Nxumalo and Ndlela were riddled with improbabilities.
“The suggestion that Moodley was lying in ambush to run the VIP vehicle off the road is preposterous,” Van Vuuren said.
However the magistrate said that he did not believe that Nxumalo had set out to kill the complainants.
“However a reasonable man does not simply fire shots out of a vehicle. A reasonable man should have foreseen the possibility that another driver would lose control. This action amounts to negligence.”
Van Vuuren said that it was fortunate that Moodley and his passengers escaped the accident unscathed.
“Firing the shots was clearly a show of strength and anger of the VIP member and indicative of the bullying that motorists feel.”
Referring to Ndlela, Van Vuuren said VIP drivers could not be a law unto themselves.
“I understand that there is a lot of pressure on these drivers, however this cannot be at the cost of law-abiding motorists. Being late for a meeting does not constitute an emergency. In these situations drivers of VIP vehicles should also be required to comply with the rules of the road.”
Sentencing has been adjourned to July 26 for witnesses to be called in mitigation.