Whether police had the intelligence before the protests erupted, they were never going to control the widespread looting and riots.
This is the view of security and crime expert Chad Thomas.
Thomas said the South African Police Services (SAPS) should have included the private security industry from the onset of the violent attacks, as the government forces were too few.
While South Africa’s population grows, the government has failed to grow the number of police officers and soldiers or its support functions.
Thomas was commenting on the seeming tension between the State Security Agency and the police department.
The security cluster ministers gathered to address the media on their plans and preparedness for the ongoing violent looting and unrest taking place in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng since the weekend following the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma.
In an interview with a national broadcaster after the media briefing, State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo repeatedly defended her ministry, and although she tried not to, may have thrown the police department under the bus for not taking action on the intelligence she said her department provided.
She told the public broadcaster that the SAPS had all the details needed to prevent the riots from emerging in certain hot-spots, but in some places, the advice was not heeded.
“I can never wash my hands of what has happened. That would be foolhardy. But as State Security, we did our job. We analysed and packaged information for the client, we gave it to them. Minister Cele said that intelligence is driving operations. We gave SAPS all the information they needed to plan for these riots.
“A lot of the time, our recommendations are taken on board by the police, and sometimes they are not. This whole thing morphed into something bigger than Jacob Zuma, it’s a manifestation of a disenfranchised population.” she said.
Dlodlo, who said she wanted to avoid throwing Police Minister Bheki Cele “under the bus”, but her comments about the actions of the two ministries may have done just that.
“At no point did Cele say he didn’t have the information, but there wasn’t enough police and soldiers on the ground.
“I do not want to be seen to be throwing the police minister under the bus, this is a collaborative effort, but information has been flowing from our end. I don’t accept claims that State Security did not do enough to prevent these riots,” she said.
Thomas said that whether the intelligence was given timeously, or whether the police acted in time, was of no value as the government should have always known that Zuma’s imprisonment would spark chaos.
In this case, Thomas said, the government should have known to over-prepare, rather than prepare for a lower risk.
“What is critical, in my understanding, is that this was going to happen anyway - Zuma’s incarceration was just the spark that caused the keg to explode. If we had a national power outage and went off the grid, we would see the exact same thing happen within 48 hours,” Thomas said.
He said the threat of unrest from loyalists to the former president were “well known and communicated”, however, no one anticipated the rapid escalation.
“Intelligence structures should have communicated a heightened threat to SAPS, and SANDF should have been mobilized earlier. SANDF should have been deployed to national key points as a preventative measure,” he said.
In the long term, Thomas said the country needed to address the unbalanced police to population ratio.
“We need to bolster the SAPS and SANDF members. We need at least 500 members to every 100 000 members of the population,” he said.