Zille to ban blue-lights

By Time of article published Feb 19, 2010

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By Anel Lewis

President Jacob Zuma will not be exempt from new provincial legislation, to be announced today by Premier Helen Zille, that will ban all politicians from using blue-light convoys and sirens in the Western Cape.

Zille, who is also acting Community Safety MEC while Lennit Max is on special leave, is expected to announce the new legislation in her second State of the Province speech this morning.

The decision to pull the plug on "blue-light bullies" comes after the arrest of University of Cape Town student Chumani Maxwele for allegedly gesturing at President Jacob Zuma's six-car convoy, she said.

Maxwele was accused of showing his middle finger at the convoy and of resisting arrest. He has claimed he was arrested at gunpoint, had a bag pulled over his head and had his house raided while he was in police custody.

But police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said the VIP Protection Unit was a component of the South African Police Service and any changes to legislation involving blue-light convoys would have to come from the minister of police.

Provincial governments did not have the legislative power to prescribe where VIP unit officers could use their sirens.

But Zille said she had legal advice that the province could use its concurrent competencies to prohibit the use of blue-light convoys.

Parliamentary convoys that used blue lights and sirens to bypass traffic had "become a law unto themselves".

Maxwele's case was the latest in a series of "shameful" incidents involving VIP unit officials. In one of these, an 84-year-old motorist in KwaZulu-Natal, was fired at by Zuma's armed convoy because he was deemed "a threat". The VIP officer involved in the incident was acquitted of attempted murder this week.

"What all of these incidents share in common is that not one single officer has been brought to book," she said.

The new provincial traffic legislation will bar politicians "from any sphere of government" from using blue-light convoys in the Western Cape.

Zille said this blue-light ban would extend to the presidential cavalcade when it was driving anywhere in the province.

Her legal team would finalise the penalties for transgressors before the legislation was enacted. Blue-lights and sirens for politicians would only be allowed in a "genuine emergency", such as a threat of an assassination.

"And being late for a meeting does not count as an emergency."

She said there were too many cases where the sirens and blue-lights were being abused for non-official reasons.

In December, a bodyguard from Mpumalanga was seen speeding in De Doorns with his lights flashing so that he could get to his holiday destination faster.

Meanwhile, Zille said her State of the Province address would focus on the province's plans for the next year.

"Some of these plans are still in progress, I must admit."

Zille is expected to outline the province's strategy to meet these and other objectives in her speech today.

The Independent Democrats (ID) said it wanted Zille to report on her cabinet's performance in the past nine months.

"Focus must now shift from what was inherited from the previous government to what her cabinet is actually doing with the mandate it received from the electorate," ID provincial secretary Rodney Lentit said.

He called for the province's plans to deal with unemployment, crime, health issues, education and housing.

Cosatu said the DA-led government's delivery and planning track record had been "less than impressive". Service delivery issues needed greater attention than governance, said Cosatu's Tony Ehrenreich.

Zille had to provide clear timeframes for the province's plans to improve conditions for poorer communities.

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