Durban - Police Minister Bheki Cele has praised the police officers deployed to Nkandla in the run-up to the deadline given to former president Jacob Zuma to hand himself over, for staying calm despite the heightened tensions.
Addressing a police parade in Empangeni on Friday that consisted of the specialised units deployed to KwaZulu-Natal to reinforce local police, Cele commended their discipline in the face of insults, threats and even armed supporters of Zuma.
“There were people who were firing guns and trying to provoke the situation in Nkandla and itching for the police to respond, but you remained firm and through the instructions of your commanders, you showed a high level of discipline and utmost professionalism,” Cele said.
Cele told the officers that President Cyril Ramaphosa had also commended the discipline demonstrated by the officers who were faced with a very difficult situation.
Cele touched on the work done by officers who led the operation to ensure that the Constitutional Court order to arrest Zuma was complied with.
Cele said that while the incarceration of Zuma was a low point in the country’s history, police handled a complex situation in the best way possible through negotiations under the leadership of Major-General Nonhlanhla Zulu, who exercised “the utmost patience and care” during a difficult time for the Zuma family and the nation.
“The arrest of a former president was a new mission for the SAPS so there was no referral point for all of us, it was simply unprecedented. It was also a mission that could have resulted in bloodshed if not handled well from the onset. However, it was executed in the most dignified and discreet way possible and I am happy to say enforcing the law didn’t have to take place at the expense of people’s lives,” Cele said.
His address came against a backdrop a series of protests around the province by supporters for Zuma who blockaded roads and highways, demanding he be released.
Millions of rand worth of damage was caused with KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala calling for calm.
The provincial government noted that there were a number of scattered attempts to bring the province to a grinding halt as major roads and highways, including the N2 and N3, were targeted.
The M7, which is a strategic cargo transit route to the Port of Durban and other provincial and municipal links, were also affected.
Several vehicles were reportedly stoned and millions or rand worth of public infrastructure damaged resulting in many commuters not being able to reach their places of work.
According to the provincial government, police have developed a comprehensive multidisciplinary security plan and all law enforcement agencies are on high alert.
“We understand the extreme anger of the people who are protesting. As a country and province, we find ourselves in a very unusual and unique situation wherein we are dealing with the arrest of a former president of the ANC and the country. We are therefore dealing with very challenging times. However, we call on those who are protesting to do so through peaceful means and to avoid violence and destruction at all costs,” said Premier Zikalala.
“We fully comprehend the feelings of the community, but unfortunately violent and destructive protests often affect or harm even the people who are not involved, and even those who share the very same pain and concerns of the protesters,” said Zikalala.
Zikalala also cautioned on the impact of illegal gatherings under adjusted risk level-4 and the impact on Covid-19 infections. Health experts have warned that the rate of infection in the province has now hit double digits in most districts.
“We have been thoroughly briefed on the security situation on the ground and we can assure the people of the province that all law-enforcement authorities are now on high alert and are addressing the incidents as they evolve. Again, we must not allow the current situation to divert us from our known culture of respect and ubuntu,” said the premier.
Zikalala said the provincial government would urgently convene a Crime Justice and Security Cluster meeting to further assess the situation and review strategies in dealing with such threats and violence.