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Incapacitated police, poverty and a violent history - KZN’s Sihle Zikalala shares insight on July unrest

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala. Picture: Jehran Naidoo/Independent Media.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala. Picture: Jehran Naidoo/Independent Media.

Published Nov 27, 2021


Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala said on Friday that some of the major factors behind the July unrest, which claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions in damages, were an under-resourced police unit, undignified socio-economic conditions and a history of violence in the province.

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Zikalala said that legislation at a national level is not allowing the provincial government to do enough in terms of bulking up its police structures and units. Prior to the outbreak, he said the provincial government was not forewarned about the large-scale unrest that unfolded and relied on social media, mainstream media and a pamphlet for information.

The premier made his submission at the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) hearing into the July unrest, which affected KZN and parts of Gauteng with violence and mass acts of criminality. The commission also heard virtual testimonies from Gauteng premier David Makhura and Defence Minister Thandi Modise.

The ‘free Jacob Zuma’ protest kicked-off a few days after the former President was jailed for contempt of court by the Concourt and sentenced to a 15 month term at Estcourt Prison. Zuma supporters vowed that police would not remove him from Nkandla.

Shortly before Zuma was jailed, Zikalala revealed that he met with the former President at Nkandla. He also said that the government was of the view that the unrest would only take place in the Nkandla region as per the social media messages that circulated.

“When these messages emerged, I think it was a week before, we were having a briefing on Covid-19. On that day I met with the provincial commissioner Lieutenant General Mkhwanazi and the MEC on how to deal with the situation. At that time it must be understood we were looking around the issue of Nkandla,” Zikalala told the commission's Advocate Buang Jones.

Zikalala told Jones: “We were not forewarned, we were not told of any threat except for what we saw on social media. We did engage the minister of national police as well (Bheki Cele). I made that clear in the statement that we were always engaging with them.

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“Myself, in my capacity as the chairperson of the ANC and the secretary, we did meet the former president. I think it was the Saturday of the week of his incarceration. We went to his homestead in Nkandla and we engaged with him on this issue. Our take was that whatever happened, as leaders, try to ensure that there was no bloodbath,” he said.

Jones asked Zikalala what he thought of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement which suggested the unrest was an act of ’ethnic mobilisation'. Zikalala said the statement was not correct because “people were mobilising from all over”.

The police and other security cluster agencies should have conducted a risk assessment of the situation after Zuma was jailed, he said.

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Last week, the former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that there was a lack of cooperation from the KZN police commissioner during the July unrest. She said the KZN police commissioner was reluctant to share information with her and colleagues.

National police commissioner Khehla Sithole told the inquiry last week during a virtual address that he instructed all units to be deployed in response to the unrest.

In the days that have lapsed, the commission heard testimonies from various victims and business chamber CEO’s in the province, many of whom believe politicians supported the unrest.

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“It was a while after the unrest that the premier called a meeting. I was very vocal and told them publicly that from the ground there was complicity. We were also told our local politicians were fine with the looting. They were not saying the looting was wrong. If you value the investment, you give some kind of reassurance to business and people. That still hasn’t happened,” said Melanie Veness, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business.

“The hardest fact is that it was orchestrated. To see how people damaged water systems, pulled the line out of the ceilings, burnt the place. They spray painted things about Ramaphosa,” she said.

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Political Bureau