/ 8 July 2022

Few convictions despite thousands of arrests after July riots

Police minister Cele says security forces are on guard against persistent threats of violence

Out of the more than 5 000 people arrested in connection with last July’s looting and vandalism, which left 354 people dead in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, only about 50 cases had been finalised with a guilty verdict, ministers in the government’s justice and security cluster said on Friday.

Police Minister Bheki Cele told a media briefing threats of a repeat of the violence persisted in the form of calls for national protests but added that security forces were intent on making sure the threats did not materialise.

A year has passed since the deadly mass looting and riots in the two provinces which left thousands of people injured and saw the destruction of businesses, leading to about R50-billion in losses. 

During the briefing by cabinet ministers in the justice, crime prevention and security cluster, Cele noted there had been “several calls for shutdowns” over the past year, which were of concern, the most recent made last month.

Out of about 8 000 incidents reported to the police in relation to the violence, at least 5 000 people had been arrested, Defence Minister Thandi Modise said. Among the cases under investigation are incitement to commit public violence, murder, attempted murder, arson, malicious damage to property, possession of suspected stolen property, damage to infrastructure and culpable homicide. 

“More than 3 300 cases have thus far been finalised through non-prosecution, with some being withdrawn in or before the court. Over 2 900 cases were closed as undetected or unfounded,” Modise said.

About 2 200 cases had been concluded “pending a decision on the viability of the prosecution of the cases”, she added, while a number of dockets had been referred to the directors of public prosecutions. Over 2 435 cases are on court rolls, with more than 50 cases having been finalised with a guilty verdict.

Cele said there were 19 cases, from which the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation was investigating six people arrested on suspicion of incitement to commit public violence, with two cases having been withdrawn.  

In KwaZulu-Natal’s Phoenix area, where violence left 35 people dead, 69 suspects were arrested for various crimes. Of these, 36 were arrested in connection with the murders, while 31 were picked up for attempted murder, Modise said. Of the 164 cases in total linked to Phoenix, she said 120 were still under investigation. 

A report on the riots by a panel of experts found weaknesses in the justice and security systems had undermined the government’s response. It said there was a lack of capacity for police officers to contain or stop the rioting and looting and a general inability in the police service to control large crowds. 

In response to this, Modise said 4 000 newly trained officers would be added to the public order police units.

“Extra funds have also been allocated in this operational environment for the modernisation of the unit, including procurement of armoured vehicles and aircraft, and further funding has been set aside for the procurement of protective gear for public order police members,” she added.