‘Who is Malema at war with?’
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“Who is Malema at war with?” This is the question asked by a security expert after seeing pictures of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema arriving at the Johannesburg High Court with heavily armed, but stylishly dressed, men in black suits and red ties, toting automatic machineguns normally used on urban warfare battlefields such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Malema created a stir on Monday and set tongues wagging when the burly men, devoid of any insignia or logos, threatened lawyers involved in his court case, and some positioned themselves outside and inside the court.
Malema was accompanied by ANC veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
In what could have easily been a scene from a Hollywood action movie and what could be a first in South Africa, Malema was escorted into the courthouse accompanied by these men armed with Dashprod SAR M14 rifles. But the posse of armed bodyguards should not have been allowed into the court.
Equality Court Judge Collin Lamont had to stop proceedings to order the removal of “people carrying guns” in his courtroom after being told about their presence.
The evictions came shortly before Roelof du Plessis, a co-complainant in Malema’s hate speech case that is before the Equality Court, told Sapa that he had been prohibited from entering the court, “by people who were bodyguards, or who are not people with the court”.
While ANCYL spokesman Floyd Shivambu was earlier quoted in the Citizen as saying the guns were for crowd control, when approached by the Pretoria News for comment he refused to speak about security issues regarding Malema “as they are none of your business”.
Police spokesman Colonel Vish Naidoo also declined to comment about the armed guards outside court, saying it was not a police matter.
“It is up to the Justice Department to comment on why people were allowed into the court with firearms,” he said.
Justice spokesman Tlali Tlali failed to return cellphone calls or SMSes at the time of going to press.
Malema’s use of the heavily armed guards, who police said did not work for the SAPS, has been lambasted by security and military analysts.
The Institute of Security Studies policing specialist, Johan Burger, said the sight of Malema being escorted into court resembled something out of a gangster movie.
“This is completely out of place with present day South Africa. Not even the level of crime we have in South Africa warrants this kind of blatant show of force, which creates a threat in its own.
“If you look at the armaments the bodyguards are carrying, one would be tempted to draw the conclusion that there was a very serious threat against Malema.
“If this is the case he must tell us what kind of threat he has received, which has warranted this overboard protection,” he said, adding that the guns being carried were offensive military weapons used in war zones.
Burger said that in cases of threats to personal safety, police would be called in to do a threat assessment and would, if a threat was detected, provide security.
“Clearly, in this case the police feel that there is no threat to Malema as they have not provided him with a security detachment.
“Of further concern is how the bodyguards will guarantee that innocent people will not be killed if they have to open fire on a so-called threat.
“Malema must justify to all South Africans the need for such force and the reason for sending out such a threatening and intimidating message of force,” he said.
Military analyst Helmoed Heitman said the use of such weapons was a “gross overkill”.
“Most people don’t need bodyguards and for the few that do a pistol is perfectly adequate form of protection.
“This sort of rifle for the protection of someone like a president would be understandable, but definitely not in the case of Malema,” he said.
“These are fire support weapons which are used as a ‘back-up’ if things go really wrong and would usually be used by special forces operatives in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Serious questions need to be asked, especially if these are fully automatic weapons. If they are, then someone needs to explain how these guards came into their possession.
“These guns are not something you want any Tom, Dick or Harry carrying around, and unless they had special permission to have these weapons and carry them in public, the police should have arrested them on the spot.
“One needs to know how well trained these ‘guards’ are and how well they can shoot, because if you are shot with this weapon you are, for all intents and purpose, dead,” he said.
SA Gunowners’ Association spokesman Martin Hood said having a gun in a court was against regulations and having an exposed weapon was against the law.
Hood said rifles were restricted firearms and getting a licence for them was difficult. “Who is this company and are they registered?” asked Hood. “I take particular exception to weapons like this being taken into a court… What they did is illegal and… the police either messed up… or they turned a blind eye.” - Pretoria News