A Durban security boss, who was on the front lines of the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal two years ago, has expressed deep concern over the lack of accountability over the violence and will to protect South African citizens in the wake of the July unrest that occurred two years ago.
Manhar Parshotam, the founder of Dragon Protection Services, highlighted the failure of law enforcement agencies and the government to effectively address and manage civil disturbances, resulting in loss of life, livelihoods, and infrastructure damage.
On July 9, 2021, South Africa was rocked by a wave of violence and looting that would last for nine days. The unrest was sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court, but it quickly spread to other parts of the country, including Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
The violence was largely directed at businesses and infrastructure, and it resulted in the deaths of at least 354 people. The economic impact of the unrest was also significant, with estimates of the damage ranging from R20 billion to R50 billion.
The unrest had a profound impact on South Africa, both in terms of its physical and social fabric. The government was forced to deploy the military to restore order, and the country's reputation was tarnished on the international stage.
Reflecting on the events that unfolded during the July unrest, Parshotam emphasised the systemic failures within the police apparatus that exacerbated the situation and eroded public trust.
"But why won't police stop them?"
Parshotam said South Africans asked the very same question two years ago and continue to ask it today as recent deliberate arson of trucks on highways across the country remains unanswered.
One of the most disheartening aspects of the police and government's failures, according to Parshotam, was the lack of swift and transparent accountability. Two years later, there have been no clear answers or attempts to reassure South African citizens that the government and its security forces will act to protect them if civil unrest erupts again.
This absence of accountability further erodes trust in the police and government structures, making future collaborations and community policing initiatives more challenging, he said.
Highlighting the remarkable unity and resilience displayed by South Africans from all walks of life during the July unrest, Parshotam pointed out that the public had to place their trust in the private security sector.
He stated, "They will again, should violence erupt."
Parshotam further reinforced this sentiment by referencing the recent blue light brigade assault, which has sparked outrage and further undermined public trust in the state institutions and the police.
Parshotam criticised the lack of preparedness demonstrated by law enforcement agencies to handle the scale and intensity of the July unrest.
He emphasised that given the underlying social and economic issues that had been brewing for some time, they should have anticipated the potential for civil unrest. The failure to assess the situation adequately and deploy appropriate resources showcased a severe lack of foresight and undermined public safety, a pattern that continues today during violent service delivery protests and truck attacks on South African roads.
"It is not for a lack of intelligence that the government failed us," Parshotam said, adding that certain structures in leadership can be efficient when it suits their agenda.
He argued that the July unrest of 2021 should have served as a wake-up call for South Africa to address deep-rooted socio-economic and political challenges. However, without accountability and transparency, it appears to be business as usual for government agencies.
As South Africa marks the two year anniversary of the July unrest, Parshotam called for immediate and comprehensive reforms to rebuild public trust, enhance police-community relations, and ensure the protection of citizens' rights. He stressed the importance of proper training, de-escalation techniques, and effective communication strategies for police departments. Parshotam also called for transparent mechanisms of accountability and oversight to hold instigators and police officers accountable.
He suggested that it might be time for the government to concede that they need help from the private sector.
“We have in our ranks trained, experienced, and qualified South Africans ready to help, and this is not by any means limited to security," he said.
Parshotam highlighted the pivotal role played by Dragon Protection Services in protecting communities and businesses during the 2021 July unrest.
As South Africa marks the two-year anniversary of the July unrest, the call for reform and learning from past failures grows stronger. Only through sincere efforts to rebuild trust and address systemic issues can the nation hope to create a more just and equitable society, where law enforcement truly serves and protects all citizens.