/ 6 September 2023

July unrest: SAPS has implemented only six of 18 recommendations

Topshot Safrica Unrest Politics Economy
A member of SAPS shoots rubber bullets to disperse a crowd looting outside a warehouse storing alcohol in Durban on July 16, 2021, after protestors clashed with police following a week of unrest in South Africa. (Photo by GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP)

Out of 18 recommendations made by an expert panel which probed the July 2021 unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has only implemented six, it told Parliament on Wednesday. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the appointment of the expert panel to probe the violence that hit the provinces, claiming hundreds of lives and shaving billions of rands from the economy. 

Chaired by Sandy Africa, the panel released its report in November 2021 with 34 recommendations, 18 of which were applicable to the police. The report found that the police had failed to stop the rioting and looting which marked the deadly eight days of looting and vandalism.

“The reasons for this failure are complex and sometimes not of their making. In some

instances, they did not get any intelligence upon which to plan operations. The police were inadequately equipped and they ran out of crowd control equipment. The police were overwhelmed by the number of looters,” it said. 

The panel recommended that police officers at station level should receive adequate training in crowd control and also be involved in exercises to simulate what to do under conditions of extreme violence.

In a presentation to parliament’s portfolio committee on police on Wednesday, SAPS, led by national commissioner Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola said measures had been implemented to capacitate visible policing members in crowd management techniques. 

“More than 10 000 station members have been trained to assist in crowd management situations as first responders. The training includes basic crowd management principles and techniques, the use of an armoured vehicle and water cannon,” the police report said.

SAPS said it was still in the process of holding accountable those accused of criminal conduct and was expediting internal disciplinary processes for police officers involved in the looting and violence, as recommended by the expert panel.

The criminal cases were investigated by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), with 68 suspects — including a police officer based in Durban — having been arrested so far. Their cases had not been finalised. 

“The cases are still pending in the Durban magistrate’s court and the other two cases are pending in the Durban high court and the Pietermaritzburg high court,” the police report to parliament said.

The expert report also recommended that the police urgently address the filling of critical vacancies in the crime intelligence division.

The police report said the post of divisional commissioner in crime intelligence was filled on 1 December 2022. A total of 18 posts had been advertised in the division since February, out of which 14 had been filled. 

It said 268 vacancies had been filled “during the 2022/23 post-promotion process at Crime Intelligence”.

The report, however, conceded that SAPS has failed to implement 12 recommendations from the expert panel commission, including being unable to create a more structured process, with effective risk assessment at its centre, to assist the police to react timeously to unrest.

It also failed to work towards rebuilding the trust of communities, as well as building or strengthening formal and informal relations between communities, including community leaders.

The police have also failed to put in place a recommendation from the expert panel for the support of social cohesion and support programmes, including solidarity networks that bridge the racial and class divides in society “to ensure that there is accountability, restorative justice and compensation of those who have suffered harm through the violence”.