Poor policing led to riots, say experts
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Durban - THE loyalty of state intelligence bosses’ to former president Jacob Zuma, a lack of contingency plans and a strong political support base for the former president are among the factors that led to the state’s dismal failure to avert last week’s devastation.
This is according to security experts following the devastation that has cost the eThekwini Municipality around R15 billion and the KwaZulu-Natal province at least R50bn worth of damage to property relating to various economic sectors, provincial government spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said last night.
Triggered by the 15-month imprisonment sentence imposed on Zuma by the Constitutional Court, the rampage first took the form of road blockages before escalating into widespread looting and burning of property. Several high-profile retailers and storage warehouses had their businesses looted and burnt, the ports of Richards Bay and Durban along with its entire supply value chain industries came to a halt.
The SAPS demonstrated a lack of contingency plans to deal with the scale of violence happening in various zones across the province, according to KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas, University of Stellenbosch based security and violence analyst Dr Guy Lamb and Dr Johan Burger, a violence specialist with the Institute for Security Studies.
“Since we do have the Public Order Policing (POP) units, which could have been deployed to high-risk areas such as Phoenix, Umlazi and other areas, it is inexplicable that it did not happen. I also find it extraordinary that water cannon are not being used as they are extremely useful weapons under circumstances like this, including to help put out fires I imagine,” said De Haas.
“There is a basic problem with policing, especially in KZN, as police management seems dependent on instructions from ministers and MECs regarding policy in a situation like this. And the ANC tended to drag its heels in admitting that there was a serious problem … because the ANC in this province is largely Zuma-supporting so there are political dynamics going on behind the scenes which I am not privy to,” she argued.
“But there is another, crucial element, that is the police, with few exceptions, have little reliable intelligence on which to act. For example, at station level, plans are supposed to be made based on the station’s intelligence officer but, according to a senior police member, that stopped years ago.
“And, if you look at the expert panel report on intelligence, parliamentary debates and evidence at the Zondo Commission, it is clear that the intelligence agencies were captured during the Zuma years, including by operatives integrated into those structures by Zuma himself who had been trained in places like China and Russia,” De Haas said.
Burger said there was general agreement that the police’s response was slow and inadequate.
“The POP are trained and equipped to act in situations of unlawful crowd activity. It is a question the national commissioner of police should answer – where were the POP units?” he asked.
“According to the SAPS annual report for 2019/20, there are 45 provincial POP units and four reserve units. The police should have deployed their POP units, at least to the worst-affected areas. There is very little evidence of such deployment,” said Burger.
“From what we witnessed the police also lacked a contingency plan to deal with such large-scale and widespread incidence of public violence and looting. From our experience during 2008 when we had the sudden outburst of xenophobic violence which quickly spread throughout large parts of the country, one would have expected the formulation of such a contingency plan should something similar happen in future. If such a plan does exist, we have not seen its implementation during last week’s violence and looting,” Burger said.
Dr Lamb said intelligence structures appear to have failed to formulate an intelligence situational analysis, which would otherwise have helped to identify a threat, isolate it and contain it.
“Certainly the police were not prepared in terms of capacity to respond to the clearly well orchestrated and multiple groups that were attacking infrastructure in various and disparate points at about the same time,” said Lamb.
As more threats of key infrastructure damage continued to flood social media, Premier Sihle Zikalala said the majority of 20 000 SANDF troops would be allocated to support the police in safeguarding the province’s N2 and N3 economic arterial routes and economic key points such as the two ports, among others.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJOINTS) said “maximum resources” had been mobilised to address threats of sabotage on police stations, courts of law, fuel pipelines and refineries.
Asked about the alleged poor police response, Lirandzu Themba, spokesperson for Police Minister Bheki Cele, referred The Mercury to the national police commissioner’s office, which had not responded by the time of publication.