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July Unrest Hearing: KZN top cop takes rap for police actions

Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi said he was taking responsibility for the failure of the police not to 100% protect lives and properties as outlined in the Constitution. Picture: Facebook/SAHRC

Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi said he was taking responsibility for the failure of the police not to 100% protect lives and properties as outlined in the Constitution. Picture: Facebook/SAHRC

Published Dec 2, 2021

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DURBAN - THE province’s police commissioner has taken responsibility for police actions during the unrest in July.

Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, answering questions at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) National Investigation into the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng on Wednesday explained that his role was to see that the 18 000 personnel deployed in the province executed their duties as outlined by the Constitution without fail.

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The SAHRC were looking into the causes of the apparent lapses in law enforcement by State security agencies, particularly the SAPS.

“Yes, I must take responsibility and I am taking responsibility for the failure of the police not to 100% protect lives and properties as outlined in the Constitution, regardless of whatever reasons made us not to perform,” said Mkhwanazi.

He said in this instance many people died and property was destroyed.

“If we are going to argue the value of the property destroyed and the number of lives that might have been saved in the process… we weigh the two and we say how was the police performance?

“We might congratulate ourselves and say we did well because we saved a lot of lives and property but the reality is the Constitution does not give us the percentage of performance.”

Mkhwanazi said 11 districts were grouped together, the province was divided into three zones with Public Order Police deployed into these zones. Three POP brigadiers from other provinces were brought in to assist in each zone.

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He said the station commander of Phoenix SAPS was caught off guard by the spontaneous unrest.

He said police were not equipped to remove the barricades in Phoenix and neither did they have evidence to pinpoint who set them up.

The commissioner said that after a warning was issued through community policing forum structures, most of these were removed.

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Mkhwanazi emphasised to the commission that barricades were set up throughout the province and not only in Phoenix. He also admitted that the public’s confidence in police had been marred based on what people saw in the media.

“We were investigating some of the police officers and their whereabouts during the unrest. In Phoenix we dismissed two reservists. They were charged departmentally and criminally. They were involved with those that erected barricades and were part of the people who were perceived to have caused harm to society. They were alleged to have used police firearms to execute some crime.”

SAPS national head of the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation (Hawks) Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya said they had 24 matters registered with his unit that dealt with instigators only.

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On Tuesday, a man was arrested in Roodeport, Gauteng. He is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

Lebeya said the unit had 20 000 case dockets handled by fewer than 3 000 personnel who had to keep track of 13 000 accused in various court cases. He said the Hawks had sufficient knowledge and skills but the workload was overwhelming.

The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, said South Africa was a country of extremes – “extreme wealth in the sea of poverty, extreme inequality and poverty”.

Zulu said that there were indications that the drivers of the unrest in July could be related to social discontent around unemployment, lack of opportunities, for instance, in small and medium enterprises, informal businesses, delivery of services and the challenge many people faced to attain basic needs such as food.

“It is very likely that enduring worsening socio-economic inequalities could have worsened the state of this context and the realisation that it is getting worse could have enabled people to be easily mobilised towards protest action that often spills over into violence and unrest.”

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