Durban — Some experts feel the South African Human Rights Commission’s report on the July 2021 violence covers various necessary bases adequately – but is undercooked in some areas.
They believe an accurate depiction is given on most issues, including the failings of the police to quell tensions and restore law and order, but the report is a damp squib on one of the possible root causes of the mayhem.
The SAHRC’s effort to probe the correlation between former president Jacob Zuma’s incarceration and the violence that raged for more than a week is a point of departure.
Zuma was sentenced to 15 months’ in jail for being in contempt of court during the state capture commission hearings.
He was held at a prison in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, from July 7, 2021, and released on September 5 that year on medical parole.
The violence began on July 9 and by the time it ended, it was reported that 40 000 businesses and 50 000 informal traders had been affected, with 150 000 jobs compromised.
The estimated financial damage the unrest brought to the fiscus was R50 billion, and it claimed 353 lives.
Jakkie Cilliers, chairperson of the board and head of African futures and innovation at the Institute for Security Studies, disagreed that the unrest would have happened even if Zuma had not been incarcerated.
“There is enough background information in the report that makes it clear that while you cannot legally provide evidence that would stand in a court of law, it links the incarceration with the violence.
“I think it is common knowledge and logical that the incident that sparked this was the jailing.” Cilliers believed the incarceration “gave the spark that lit the gas”.
“I have no doubt. I think it is a very curious way in which the commission tries to make a distinction between the broad unrest and Zuma’s incarceration. But when you read the report, the actual fact is that their own evidence is conflictual in that sense,” he said.
Belinda Johnson, co-ordinator of the public policy programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said she found the report on the matter of Zuma to be “very disappointing”.
“For a report that mentions his name and arrest not to acknowledge that there is a correlation between the violence and his arrest, especially considering very public utterances that were taking place up to and during the protests. I feel that as a Chapter 9 Institution due diligence was not done here. However, to be fair, the writers of the report may have been exercising discretion.”
Johnson suggested the report should be regarded as incomplete.
“I would hope that following a police and intelligence investigation, we would get an addendum added to the report.”
Phindile Ntuli, a commissioner with the SAHRC, said in a media interview they learnt that between December 2020 and July 2021, in diverse sectors of South Africa, there were “actors who had varying agendas and were mobilising against the state, and they were well resourced”.
“All those posed a level of orchestration and significant threat to national security.
“Considering the evidence before us we asked ourselves whether it had any possible links to the incarceration of Zuma. That evidence we did not receive as a commission.
“On that basis, we were unable to conclusively find a link between the incarceration and the unrest,” she said.
General Fannie Masemola, the national commissioner of the SAPS, said the report contained various recommendations and findings, including the policing of the unrest, gathering of intelligence and their response, and they have since made considerable progress to be better prepared.
He said some of the reforms included filling key crime intelligence positions.
The police had trained and deployed 20 000 police officers.