The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) investigation into the July 2021 unrest has found critical lapses in law enforcement, particularly within the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the role of Private Security Companies (PSCs).
Released on Monday, the commission’s findings highlight a series of systemic failures in South Africa's law enforcement and intelligence sectors during the unrest that knocked the South African economy for R50 billion and saw the deaths of 354 people.
These include lapses in intelligence coordination, inadequate preparedness, poor resource management, and a lack of community engagement in justice processes. The role of private security companies and their regulatory body, PSIRA, also came under scrutiny for their failure to adhere to legal and human rights standards.
These findings have highlighted the need for significant reforms to prevent recurrence and ensure the protection of citizens' rights and security.
Evidence presented to the Commission indicated a failure in intelligence-gathering and sharing, with contradictions between various officials regarding the availability and utilisation of intelligence reports.
According to the Commission’s report, SAPS failed to detect the planning and execution of the unrest, attributed to under-resourcing and lack of capacity within Crime Intelligence.
The State's intelligence approach was marred by excessive secrecy and insufficient technological capabilities, leading to ineffective responses to the unrest and subsequent stabilisation efforts.
There is an urgent requirement for systemic improvement within SAPS and crime intelligence structures to restore public trust and prevent future unrest.
Inadequate Preparedness and Response of the National Security Council (NSC)
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Commission found that the NSC should have maintained focus on national security. The lack of prioritisation of the NSC and a transparent National Security Strategy were seen as significant oversights.
The state's response in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng was hindered by poor communication, coordination, and delayed responses. Early warnings were ignored, leading to a total breakdown in law and order in the affected areas.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) failed to respond promptly to early warnings, contributing to the escalation of violence.
Absence of Community Engagement in Case Reporting and Access to Justice
Victims of violence during the unrest were inadequately engaged with by SAPS or the NPA, with a lack of information on their rights and the processes of the criminal justice system.
Neither the NPA nor the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJCD) could confirm any ongoing investigations or prosecutions against members of the security and law enforcement sectors allegedly involved in criminal activities during the unrest.
The Commission noted that several structural changes have occurred within the security cluster since the unrest, including the resignation or removal of key figures in the Defence and SSA ministries, the DG of the SSA, and the National Commissioner of SAPS.
However the Commission recommended the following changes to overcome the security lapses:
Enhanced communication with victims and their families.
A comprehensive database of unrest-related deaths.
A national security strategy focusing on cooperative governance and crisis management.
Improved security information and intelligence, including oversight and accountability mechanisms.
Reform and capacitation of SAPS, including depoliticising police functions and integrating Community Policing Forums.
Regular meetings of the National Security Council.
Transparent judicial proceedings and a strategic response to cybercrime.
Regulation of the private security sector with an emphasis on training and human rights.