Failure to implement expert panel’s advice an indictment on the State

Protesters burned cars and looted shops in Jules street in Jeppestown. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Protesters burned cars and looted shops in Jules street in Jeppestown. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 9, 2023


By Mary de Haas

In a country accustomed to regular violent protest action the anarchy following the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma on July 7, 2021, remains etched in our collective memories.

A week after spreading from KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng, an estimated 354 people had died and South Africa’s economy had lost R50 billion. While dozens of the many more known instigators have been charged there have been no significant convictions. The orchestrators of what is described as an attack on the State remain unidentified, their motives unknown. The extent to which recommendations made by inquiries into these events, especially those of the expert panel chaired by Prof Sandy Africa have been implemented, provides some indication of whether the threat of similar action remains.

The culpability of intelligence services and policing, and our country’s Executive, in the breakdown of law-and-order is confirmed by the Africa panel, which calls for urgent action to remedy serious problems in the organ of State Security, the SAPS Crime Intelligence Service, and the training and equipping of Public Order Policing.

Two and a half years before the July events, the High Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency had made damning findings about the violation of Constitutional principles by turning this department into a private resource to serve factional, political and personal interests. A return to civilian oversight and control was urgent. Currently, the Parliamentary Oversight Committee is bemoaning delays by the Cabinet in submitting the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill (to restore civilian control) to Parliament.

The Africa report emphasises the urgency of addressing critical problems in the SAPS Crime Intelligence division (confirmed by the Zondo Commission as riddled with nepotism and alleged criminality). It points to instability at high levels linked to internal ANC politics. These recommendations have been ignored, and crime intelligence has lurched from bad to worse. It has a new national head allegedly lacking intelligence training, with a divisive history in Operational Response Services, reporting directly to the same Minister of Police who shares responsibility for what happened in 2021. Recently crime intelligence members were allegedly deployed, without the knowledge of the SAPS National Commissioner, to hunt down police corruption whistle-blower Patricia Mashale in the Free State.

During the July mayhem, Public Order Policing (POP) were absent from the worst affected areas. The Africa panel found shocking shortcomings in this crucial component, which had less than half the number of members required for adequate performance.

Police management claimed they had run out of rubber bullets but the post-Marikana Panel of Experts Report on Policing and Crowd management, handed to the minister three years previously, had stressed the need for less lethal weapons – especially water cannons and even teargas – as well as far better training in crowd control. The Africa panel found there was no air-wing capacity, and one water cannon per province. Equipment had not been maintained. Apart from a recent announcement that many of the new SAPS recruits would be deployed to POP, none of the recommendations of the 2018 report are known to have been implemented five years later. Nor does there appear to have been any action on the call made by the Africa panel to urgently address the security threat posed by the growing number of security companies, especially those not registered with Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira).

The Africa report also prioritises the need to address glaring socio-economic disparities. Whoever orchestrated the events of July 2021 may have capitalised on the way in which poverty and powerlessness regularly erupt into violent protest, often with looting. Nothing has changed since 2021: lack of meaningful service delivery, linked to corrupt, dysfunctional municipalities – a potential protest tinderbox – continues. Nor have steps been taken to implement the recommendations of an important decade old report on how to build social cohesion.

The Mazibuye Forum is currently a lone voice making the call on government to build non-racialism by addressing social cohesion issues, and must be supported. It is a very serious indictment of our country’s Executive, and its lack of political will, to take the events of July 2021 seriously by implementing crucial recommendations made in five-year old reports, and the 2021 Africa panel report, about State Security and the SAPS.

July 2021 was a dire warning of how easy it is to sow anarchy and, by wilfully refusing to take remedial action, this government poses the biggest threat to our national security – and our lives – by those Africa and other reports described as having ‘an appetite for lawlessness’.