President Cyril Ramaphosa ruled out declaring a state of emergency for now in response to this week’s violence in South Africa, but vowed to pursue and prosecute those behind what he called a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on the country’s democracy.
In a national address broadcast live on television, Ramaphosa said social relief — in the form of food parcels, vouchers and cash — would be distributed to those affected by the looting and vandalism which followed what started off as protests against former president Jacob Zuma’s jailing.
The Presidency, with the national treasury and the economic cluster, were developing a comprehensive support package to be considered by the cabinet, Ramaphosa said.
Though calls for a state of emergency were understandable, he said, as long as there were other means to stabilise the country, this measure would unnecessarily lead to drastic limitations on basic human rights.
But he said specialised units of South Africa’s law enforcement agencies were working around the clock to locate and apprehend those responsible for planning and coordinating the violence.
“We will spare no effort in bringing these individuals to justice,” the president said.
His address followed a visit to KwaMashu, Springfield, Mobeni and Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal on Friday morning to assess the damage caused by the week’s unrest, which was characterised by indiscriminate looting and vandalism mainly at shopping centres.
It was initially believed to have been started by Zuma supporters, angered by the former president’s incarceration in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. Zuma began a 15-month sentence last week after he was found in contempt of a Constitutional Court order to testify before the Zondo commission investigating state capture.
The riots, which spread to parts of Gauteng, disrupted transport routes and the country’s vaccination rollout and caused a number of businesses to shutter their doors — taking an economic toll, just as the country reels from the knock of the Covid-19 pandemic’s third wave and attendant lockdown.
The key N3 highway from Durban was closed due to the unrest but has since been reopened. Security forces are in place to keep vital supply routes open, said Ramaphosa, who earlier this week ordered the deployment of 25 000 troops to help police restore order.
There were 118 recorded incidents of public violence, arson and looting, he said.
Earlier on Friday, minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the week’s death toll has risen to 212. Nsthavheni said 180 people had died in KwaZulu-Natal — with seven bodies being found in a Makro store in Pietermaritzburg — and 32 in Gauteng.
The South African Police Service is investigating 131 cases of murder and has opened inquest dockets in respect of 81 deaths.
Ramaphosa stressed on Friday night that instigators of the “assault on our democracy” would be dealt with. “We will extinguish the fires that are raging. And we will stamp out every last ember of this fire,” the president said.
“We will identify and act against those who lit the flame, and those who spread it,those who are still attempting to spread it. We will find those who instigated this violence. They will be held accountable for their deeds, because we will not allow anyone to destabilise the country and to get away with it.”
He also referred to this week’s events as a deliberate attempt of insurrection, calling the attacks on businesses and the disruption of supply routes an act of “economic sabotage”.
“It is clear now that the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, a co-ordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy. The constitutional order of our country is under threat,” the president said.
“These actions are intended to cripple the economy of our country, cause social instability and severely weaken, or even dislodge, the democratic state, using the pretext of a political grievance.”
Instigators had sought to manipulate the poor and vulnerable for their own gain, Ramaphosa added.
But, he noted,the violence had failed to gain popular support.
“It has failed because of the efforts of our security forces and it has failed because South Africans have stood up in defence of our hard-won democracy,” the president said.