Government ‘unequivocally failed’ to protect citizens during July unrest — report

There was an unequivocal failure of the country’s police and intelligence services, which led to more than 340 people dying during violent looting and destruction in last year’s July unrest

Moreover, the “internal differences” and factional fights in the governing ANC contributed to the carnage that played itself out in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, and these squabbles should be viewed as a national security threat. 

These were some of the findings made by the three-member South African Human Rights Council expert panel appointed last August by President Cyril Ramaphosa to review the government’s response to the July unrest.

The panel — which consisted of Professor Sandy Africa as chairperson, advocate Mojanku Gumbi and Silumko Sokupa — delivered its report on 4 February to the national security council, which Ramaphosa chairs. 

The report investigates into almost two weeks of violence in the two provinces, shortly after former president Jacob Zuma was incarcerated in KwaZulu-Natal for contempt after refusing to appear before the state capture commission, which has now concluded its hearings.

The report slammed the fact that no one had been arrested for instigating the carnage, and also strongly criticised Ramaphosa for his apparent nonchalance and lack of reassurance following the violence. 

“The fact that none of the organisers or real instigators of the violence have been apprehended is a matter of concern. If there is such intelligence that has been shared by the intelligence services, the president should address any systemic weaknesses that may have caused such intelligence to escape his review,” reads the report. 

“If the president has received intelligence about the instigators, the question would be why has he not assured the nation that the government will act on this matter. Consequently, to establish trust, the president must inform the public if he is on top of the situation and what they can expect with holding any culprits responsible for the violence and looting. 

A private security employee watches as a factory burns in Durban’s Sea Cow Lake area on 12 July. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

“In times of crisis, more than at any other time, the president must lead [the] government in communicating a single, clear message about what is happening, why it is happening and what the government is doing to address the matter,” the report adds.

This is an apparent swipe at the different views coming from the government during the unrest, when Ramaphosa called the violence an attempted coup and insurrection, while the former ministers of defence and state security, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Ayanda Dlodlo, respectively, publicly contradicted the president’s stance

The interaction between Police Minister Bheki Cele and national commissioner Khehla Sitole also came in for criticism, with the report noting that the process of choosing the country’s top cop should be revisited. 

“We were informed that whether the relationship between a minister and a commissioner works depends on the individuals occupying the posts,” the report states.

“This is clearly untenable, and if it requires closer scrutiny of the process leading to the appointment of the national commissioner, this should receive urgent attention.” 

During the South African Human Rights Council hearings into the July unrest in November and December, it emerged that there was a lack of co-ordination between Cele and Sitole, and that neither of them knew where the other was while the country was burning. 

The country’s police, intelligence services and the government came in for much of the criticism in the report.

“Many reasons were proffered for this failure, but in the end the response remains that they failed to do the necessary to protect life, limb and property. The executive, however, carries some of the blame too and must take responsibility for its lapse of leadership,” the report says.

The full report is available on the presidency website.

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Khaya Koko
Khaya Koko is a journalist with a penchant for reading through legal documents braving the ravages of cold court benches to expose the crooked. He writes about social justice and human-interest stories. Most importantly, he is a card-carrying member of the Mighty Orlando Pirates.

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