/ 19 July 2021

Security cluster disagrees over describing recent unrest as an ‘insurrection’

Safrica Politics Unrest Economy Ramaphosa
A group of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Rooikat, an armoured reconnaissance vehicle equipped with a stabilised 76mm high velocity gun, are seen during President Cyril Ramaphosa's visit to the Kwamashu Bridge City on July 16, 2021 in Durban. - (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

Members of the security cluster in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet are said to disagree about whether the recent wanton violence and looting should be labelled as an insurrection or a crime wave, sources have told the Mail & Guardian

According to two well-placed sources, some members of the executive advised Ramaphosa against labelling the recent unrest as an insurrection. 

The sources say State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula are some of the leaders who disagreed with the label, while Dlodlo’s deputy, Zizi Kodwa, and the head of domestic intelligence branch, Mahlodi Muofhe — who are allies of the president — agreed with Ramaphosa’s assertion. 

“In an insurrection you must target the state resources and cabinet … no such thing happened. It was a wave of crime. We have not had accurate intelligence on this thing; we cannot rely on half-baked theories,” one source said. 

Addressing parliament’s joint standing committee on defence on Sunday evening Mapisa-Nqakula called the recent unrest signs of a counter-revolution, which is taking the form of criminality and thuggery.

“There is no coup here; there is no insurrection here,” she told parliament. 

The contrast in messages between Dlodlo and Kodwa was evident when the two members of Ramaphosa’s cabinet spoke to the media this week. 

In his interviews, Kodwa affirmed his opinion that this was an attempted coup d’état, whereas Dlodlo told the media that there was no evidence pointing in this direction, adding that such talk was reckless. 

“We have got men and women that work for this country to ensure that our citizens sleep at night, knowing very well that we will be gathering information to hand over to law enforcement agencies and ensure that our people are protected,” Dlodlo said on Friday.

“Sometimes criminals will hijack legitimate issues that are being raised by people, but sometimes it is also the people who also instigate these issues that we see today.” 

Who will take the fall? 

A party insider said their difference in opinion has led to a further rift between the two senior ANC leaders. 

Dlodlo, whom the Ramaphosa faction believes should be replaced by one of the president’s men at the key department, is said to be the one most likely to take the fall. 

“It’s now who did what: [Police Minister Bheki] Cele and Dlodlo are each on the firing line, but I don’t see Bheki taking the fall. The axe will fall on Dlodlo’s head. She is the one they want out,” one senior ANC leader said.  

Government insiders have told the M&G that a combination of inaccurate intelligence, the government underestimating the effects of unemployment, poverty and inequality, and a lack of political will led to the government sleeping at the wheel. 

Speaking to the M&G, sources from the party’s political elite said all this could have been avoided had the police and state security agency intelligence given Ramaphosa accurate information. 

According to the well-placed ANC leaders, Ramaphosa was first told by the security cluster that the insurrections were a result of the radical economic transformation (RET) faction in the ANC mobilising the Zulu nation to do its bidding. 

The intelligence received by Ramaphosa in the first three days of the unrest pointed to ethinic mobilisation, two sources told the M&G. 

This intelligence would result in Ramaphosa’s speech in which he placed the blame of the unrest on ethinic mobilisation. 

In his speech last Monday, the president said that the violence may indeed have its roots in the pronouncements and activities of individuals with a political purpose, and in expressions of frustration and anger.

“At the beginning of this unrest, there may have been some people who sought to agitate for violence and disorder along ethnic lines. We know that the majority of our people have out of principle refused to be mobilised along these lines,” he said. 

A party leader told the M&G that Ramaphosa was misled into making this statement by police intelligence and the state security agency. 

The M&G reported last week that a party leader in the ANC said that the national executive committee (NEC) was alerted to possible unrest before it began. The leader said Dlodlo gave a dossier to Cele and the president two days before the unrest started.

“We knew. This thing could have been avoided. We were told and we did nothing. There is no way Ramaphosa can say he was not aware. This was discussed in the NEC and he knew about it going to the national working committee. Ayanda is not lying. She told Bheki and [police commissioner Khehla] Sitole and they sat on it.”

The sources who the M&G spoke to on Friday said that the ANC was first alerted to a possible coup d’état by sympathisers of former president Jacob Zuma and the RET faction, however, the “party did not take it seriously”. 

“In a coup, you target state buildings and key resources, the military and the cabinet. We all thought that this was political. The RET failed to mobilise to have a special conference to remove the president because most provinces said no. If political maneuvering failed, we thought that there was no way the unrest would succeed,” one party leader said. 

“We were looking at the generals who sympathised with the RET; we did not bank on the poor, the consequences of the lockdown on our poorest society. It took a turn we did not foresee.” 

The damage caused over the past days is expected to amount to billions of rands. 

Addressing the nation on Friday evening, Ramaphosa said that at least 212 people have lost their lives; of these, 180 were in KwaZulu-Natal and 32 in Gauteng.

The president said the police are investigating 131 cases of murder and have opened inquest dockets in respect of 81 deaths. The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure has recorded more than 118 incidents of public violence, arson, looting and other unrest-related instances, the president told the nation. 

Conceding that he had previously received weak intelligence, Ramaphosa said: “It is clear now that the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy. The constitutional order of our country is under threat. The current instability and ongoing incitement to violence constitutes a direct contravention of the constitution and the rule of law. 

“These actions are intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken or even dislodge the democratic state. Using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection,” the president said. 

Another member of the Ramaphosa faction said that the recent events, which took place under Zuma’s name, would disadvantage the former president’s chances of receiving an early release. 

“We should be talking about the process of an early release of the man, but now you can’t discuss the process when the country is burning,” the ANC leader said. “He has been sitting in jail for seven days now and we have not started with the process. The man cannot catch Covid-19 or get sick or die there … They are extending his stay and eventually he will get sick because it’s cold there” 

Former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa, who was the architect of the step-aside guidelines and is in charge of spearheading the ANC’s legal document on land reform, said that there was nothing political about the violence that took place in the country. 

“We should not use a prison sentence as an excuse to fuel the fires of racism and all sorts of divisions between ourselves as a nation,” Phosa said at an address at a business empowerment awards ceremony on Thursday evening.  

“As leaders, we cannot fall into the trap of generality about what is happening here. Thieves, things and looters are hurting our image, our reputation, our economy, our rainbow nation and our future. It is enough tha our lives have been upended by the violence. Let us not allow our views and the right to differ to drag our country into disarray.” 

Former president Thabo Mbeki said it was his view that the country is harvesting the bitter fruits of a counterrevolutionary insurgency that has long been germinating in the bowels of what we commonly call state capture. 

He said that the hallmarks of state capture are the deliberate and systematic denuding of state capacity witnessed at the South African Revenue Service, state-owned enterprise and the weakening of all arms of law enforcement (including intelligence agencies and the NPA). 

“The economic sabotage [and] wanton destruction of property and infrastructure we have witnessed cannot be accepted as incidental. We recall that the current situation was foreshadowed by open threats of civil war and unrest,” Mbeki said in a statement issued by his foundation on Friday. 

“The pressing socioeconomic conditions of our people and the recent arrest of former president Jacob Zuma have served as a perfect set to mount an offensive against the state and the constitutional democratic edifice on which it is built.”