Restoring law and order needs to be as frictionless as possible

By Opinion Time of article published Jul 21, 2021

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Nkosikhulule Nyembezi

Cape Town - Following the news recently has been a nightmare as updates of a long and growing list of companies quantifying the impact of the unrest on their operations kept coming fast and furiously.

More than 30 Cash Build stores and 00 Famous Brand outlets were taken out of commission, 109 Mr Price stores were entirely looted and another 539 closed,and hundreds of ATMs belonging to various banks were hit.

In the middle of the chaos, problem-solvers have been getting on with solving some of the immediate short-term needs of the communities worst affected by the violence.

A video of fuel trucks getting fuel to petrol stations under armed police escort flashes in my mind. As does oxygen suppliers being escorted to hospitals. Deeply uncomfortable scenes. But it’s necessary.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy announced a ban on the sale of petrol in containers, for fear that it could be used to commit arson.

Come to think of it, there’s a high likelihood that we could be stuck if we needed fuel for electricity generators, as Eskom had warned that it could implement load shedding to relieve the power grid that was under strain.

A lot of services remain suspended and will stay that way until businesses gain access to better information to assess the risk they have in doing business.

We have arrived at another of those moments, in dealing with this public unrest, where it’s critically important that political actors respect a central decision-making body rather than go their own way.

The issue on the table is the deployment of the army to help restore order, which has received a luke-warm reception from opposition political parties and some members of the community.

Sometimes, decisions on operations to maintain community safety need to be made locally to reflect the local context. Setting up search-and-seizure checkpoints at residences in strategically located entrances to some neighbourhoods to recover looted goods is an example.

But sometimes decisions on operations need to be centralised in order to be effective. We saw what can go wrong if they’re not: for example, when, in the absence of a national intervention strategy, the national and metro police as well as private security companies ended up bidding against one another for personnel reinforcements in hot spot areas under siege by masses of looters and arsonists.

The friction caused by the lack of standardisation of operations takes various forms, one of which is hesitancy to embrace army deployment.

This is a major problem in some parts of the country. Although the causes are complex, it appears as though many citizens are wondering, and reasonably so, why if the swift army deployment is good enough for the enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations, it is not good enough for quelling unrest that threatens to obliterate jobs and livelihoods.

In the aftermath of last week’s debacle, with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s characterisation of what is happening as tribal mobilisation and calculated acts of insurrection having misfired, aligning those who say the government is disorganised and too slow to respond with those who say the media reports are not telling the full story, decent public representatives in the legislative bodies have a choice. Do they stick with Ramaphosa’s brand of identity politics that subjects the much-needed government intervention to the ANC dithering, or resume the attempt to fashion a sustainable intergovernmental co-operative strategy, underpinned by checks and balances, to also hold the executive accountable for the conduct of the security forces?

Under the circumstances, restoring and maintaining law and order need to be as frictionless as possible, so that all populations are protected and none is discriminated against.

Friction will hamper recovery and doubly penalise the communities that are at the back of the queue for economic development opportunities.

Nyembezi is a policy analyst and a human rights activist.

Cape Times

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