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Police, ANC factional battles to blame in unrest

The violent spree of destruction and looting during the July unrest resulted in over 354 people dead, some whose remains remained trapped in the factories in KwaZulu-Natal at the time the panel compiled the report.Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

The violent spree of destruction and looting during the July unrest resulted in over 354 people dead, some whose remains remained trapped in the factories in KwaZulu-Natal at the time the panel compiled the report.Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 8, 2022

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THE LACK of communication and internal politics between Police Minister Bheki Cele and Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, coupled with the factional battles within the ANC, were flagged as some of the main reasons behind the violent and deadly looting and civil unrest last year.

A probe by the panel appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate the government's response to the destructive unrest across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng found the two top cops were “poles apart” in their interpretation of how the events of July could have been managed, if at all.

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The probe further found that security forces were overstretched, insufficiently capacitated and lacked the executive oversight and instruction to control the situation.

“This is a matter of concern, as it narrows the grounds for consensus within the senior leadership of the police on what needs to be corrected going forward, and of who is to be held accountable for the failure to prevent the loss of life and the destruction of property that occurred,” the panel stated in their report.

Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng erupted in widespread violence shortly after former president Jacob Zuma was incarcerated in KwaZulu-Natal for contempt after refusing to appear before the state capture commission.

The panel — led by Professor Sandy Africa as chairperson alongside advocate Mojanku Gumbi and Silumko Sokupa — delivered its report to the national security council last Friday.

It recommended that the capacity of the security services be strengthened to respond effectively to all situations.

The security services, it said, must use all the lawful levers available to them, in particular the need to intercept communications in a lawful manner, where the security of the State is at stake.

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It further suggested their technological capacity be strengthened as well.

The panel also found that the failure of the police must also be seen against the background of Cele stating clearly in his submission that the suspension of six crime intelligence officers by Sitole weakened that division.

“The executive also needs to be better coordinated and aligned, and the National Security Council must take the lead in security policy coordination," the report read.

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It further found the internal contradictions within the ANC were impacting negatively on governance matters and needed to be resolved.

The panel said this was a matter of “great concern”, and the reasons for this needed to be identified sooner rather than later.

In the report, the team found that little has changed in the conditions that led to the unrest, leaving the public worried that there might be “similar eruptions of large-scale unrest in future”.

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“The question, many argue, is not if and whether more unrest and violence will occur, but when it will occur. The fear of many is that not only will a repeat of such violence find ground in the all-too-familiar contexts of negative political contestation, where certain interests take advantage of the levels of poverty, inequality, lack of service delivery and social tensions to advance their cause,” it stated in the report stated.

The violent spree of destruction and looting resulted in over 354 people dead, some whose remains remained trapped in the factories in KwaZulu-Natal at the time the panel compiled the report.

Thousands were injured; communities that used to live side by side in harmony were divided, and citizens felt abandoned by the State. The panel described this as “the glue that held communities together was shaken”.

It said there was also a sense of deep bewilderment at the absence of the police at a time when communities needed them most.

The panel found that the police capacity was overstretched due to spontaneous, multiple, and simultaneous incidents of unrest, violence and looting.

Poor environmental designs of the affected areas, such as poor lighting, a lack of proper road infrastructure, overpopulated human settlements, insufficient availability of Nyala and water cannon capacity to respond to the unrest and looting, were major factors inhibiting proper policing.

“There were also threats made on social media targeting SAPS members and SAPS infrastructure, which impacted negatively on the morale of SAPS members who were deployed at the front line of the unrest and looting. Some police officers could not get to work, and those that did, were exhausted as the violence went on and on,” indicated the report.

It found that while the arrival of the SA National Defence Force assisted to stabilise the situation, it was a little too late.

“There is no doubt that the police had insufficient capacity to stop the violence. The riots happened simultaneously in areas that are distant from each other. They took a form generally unfamiliar to the police, where large crowds descended on shopping malls and warehouses, to loot,” the report stated.

The panel also criticised the budget constraints within the security departments as it also resulted in the Public Order Policing unit not having sufficient tools of trade, such as rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.

The panel said they were also informed that there was only one water cannon per province available to the unit.

“This state of affairs is clearly unsustainable in a country with such an active protest history,” the panel stated.

Ramaphosa is expected to outline the first actions the government will take in response to the findings and recommendations of the report in his State of Nation Address on Thursday.

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Political Bureau

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