Four police officers assigned to a security team protecting South Africa's deputy president will be charged with assault and other offenses after being caught on video kicking and stomping on at least two men after they pulled their car over on a highway, police said Wednesday.
The weekend incident provoked outrage in South Africa after the video of the armed plainclothes officers attacking the motorists was posted on social media.
The four officers are facing charges of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, pointing of a firearm, and malicious damage to property, police spokesperson Brig. Athlenda Mathe said.
One of the men who was kicked and stomped on by the officers appeared to be unconscious after the incident and lay motionless on his back on the side of the highway in Johannesburg.
At least seven officers were involved in the incident, with some of them holding rifles while kicking and stomping on the men. The four officers facing criminal charges have also been served with letters notifying them that police intend to suspend them from their jobs, Mathe said.
A spokesperson for South African Deputy President Paul Mashatile said Tuesday that the officers were part of his security detail, although Mashatile was not present during the incident. Mashatile condemned the officers' conduct.
The video, which was taken by a person in another car, shows the group of officers dragging one of the men across the road and then kicking and stomping on his head and body until he lies motionless. They also kicked and stomped on a second man, who holds his hands over his head to protect himself.
It's not clear what led to the incident or who the victims were. The video only starts after the car has been pulled over by the officers, who are traveling in two black SUVs.
The incident has reignited longstanding concerns over police brutality in South Africa and also drawn scrutiny to the notorious unit the officers belong to.
The VIP protection unit — referred to by South Africans as the "blue light brigade" — provides security for high-profile politicians but is notorious for driving in convoys at high speeds with blue lights flashing, intimidating other motorists to get out the way and sometimes reacting with force if their instructions aren't followed.