South Africa - Johannesburg - 22 July 2021 - Members of the South African National Defence Force and other law enforcement agencies embarked in an operation at Nguni Hostel to recover looted items during recents protests in Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)
South Africa - Johannesburg - 22 July 2021 - Members of the South African National Defence Force and other law enforcement agencies embarked in an operation at Nguni Hostel to recover looted items during recents protests in Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Mission accomplished as SANDF and SAPS take back from the have-nots to return to the haves

By Kevin Ritchie Time of article published Jul 31, 2021

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Johannesburg - The South African Police Service (SAPS) raided the Nguni Hostel in Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni, on Tuesday morning (this week), guarded by soldiers from Foxtrot Company of the OR Tambo Regiment.

The troops have been assisting police operations at the request of the SAPS command on an almost daily basis, explains Colonel Ronald Maseko, the senior staff officer Media Liaison at Defence Headquarters, as part of Operation Prosper, the SANDF’s deployment of up to 25 000 members following the widespread looting and lawlessness that laid waste to KwaZulu-Natal before spreading to Johannesburg and some of its surrounds..

On Tuesday, the soldiers cordoned off the sprawling hostel complex, which is divided into blocks from A to K, preventing any access in or out as a combined police task team made up of Ekurhuleni police and public order policing units from Pretoria and Johannesburg began going door-to-door, searching each of the rooms in B-Section.

They were looking for contraband looted from the nearby shopping centres, especially the large Cambridge food store just across the veld 10 days before, when South Africa experienced its worst spate of public disobedience in its democratic history. This week, the SA Property Owners Association estimated that unrest had cost the country R50 billion in lost output and jeopardised 150 000 jobs.

An SANDF soldier stands guard, preventing access to the Nguni Hostel in Vosloorus, during an SAPS search and seizure operation as township residents look on from the other side of Dubazana Road. Picture by Kevin Ritchie.

The police did not arrest anyone at Nguni Hostel. Instead the piles of contraband outside some of the units continued to grow as officers carried out goods which the householders had been unable to prove had been legitimately purchased.

There was a lot of foodstuff, cases upon cases of beer, several brand-new fridges – some of which had been stocked with beer – packs of toilet paper, cooking oil, flower, a microwave and even an exercise bike.

“It’s difficult to arrest people, you have to show that the people actually stole the stuff, which you can see, we can’t, so we’re confiscating it,” explained a police warrant officer.

Inside B-Block, residents watched on sullenly as the police approached. Not every unit yielded results, but most did – and not just allegedly looted items but other illegal substances such as drugs. Across the road at A-Block, police formed a makeshift human chain to load a 5-ton truck that had already completed one delivery back to the nearby Vosloorus police station.

“Yho,” said a heavily armed police colonel, “it’s like every house here has become a spaza shop.”

Membersof the SANDF and other law enforcement agencies embarked on an operation at Nguni Hostel to recover looted items during recent protests in Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni. Picture by Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Up the road that divided A and B blocks, groups of residents, predominantly men, gathered at street corners as the troops standing about 75m apart eyed them warily.

One resident, Fani*, looked on in disgust. The raid, he said, had caught them by surprise.

“If they had come last Friday, pay day, they would not have been allowed in. we would have drunk our liquor, we would have marched down the road towards them and met them there,” he said angrily.

He’s a former Uber driver, who lost everything with the initial Covid-19 lockdown. The bank repossessed his car. He was forced to move back to the hostel, a place where the community would look after him.

“The looting was wrong,” he said, “but look at us, we are hungry, unemployed and desperate.” The looting had been massive, he said pointing to the shopping centres on either side. “People carried everything back, there was nothing left in the shops. Even the ATMs were stolen, driven back into the hostel on forklift trucks and the safes broken inside the hostel.”

This wasn’t politics, he said, it had nothing to do with any support of former president Jacob Zuma. “We are not stupid people, we will not be used by different factions, not any more. The truth is, the government has failed us.”

Down the road, one of the OR Tambo Regiment soldiers looked on impassively at the groups converging on the corners. The contraband wasn’t as much as he’d seen in earlier raids. In one of them, at Tembisa, he’d noticed something that looked as if it might have been buried beneath where he was standing. He’d fetched a spade and dug down, to discover a carpet laid over a brand-new flat screen TV. As a reservist, he’s been called up for six months. After Op Prosper, he’s expecting to go back on to border guarding duty as part of the ongoing Operation Corona.

“These people are stubborn,” he said. “Look at all these illegal (electricity) connections. They won’t learn. Inside, these people are mostly taxi drivers or zama-zamas (illegal miners). They mustn’t test us, they mustn’t break the law,” he said, “we are not police, we have real bullets.”

As the search drew to a close, Maseko expressed his satisfaction.

“This was a police operation, operating on the intelligence they had received. Our role was to provide a safe environment for them to conduct their operation without any hindrance. We did that.

“It looks like it was a success as you can see from all the goods that have been confiscated – including wads of dye-stained cash that were obviously stolen from the ATMs.”

*Not his real name

The Saturday Star

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