/ 31 May 2024

KwaZulu-Natal police faced over 900 protests and civil unrest in lead-up to elections

KZN police commissioner, Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, during a visit to the provincial Results Operation Centre in Durban, on Friday. Photo: Lyse Comins

In the build-up to the general elections, police had to deal with more than 900 protests, including 211 cases of civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, South African Police Service provincial commissioner Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi said on Friday at the Results Operation Centre, in Durban.

He said police have investigated 68 election-related cases since February, while two police officers were suspended this week, one of them wearing the regalia of a political party, for allegedly misusing a state vehicle for political purposes, and officers had to manage long queues and drunken people who were disturbing the voting process.

“Our officers endured long hours, working in the rural and urban areas. They had to endure crowds, long queues and they had to manage some people that were under the influence of liquor that were misbehaving during the process,” said Mkhwanazi, adding that the work was ongoing as people were still “celebrating”. 

KZN had been a focus area for police “way before the announcement date of the election”, he said.

Police put to the test

“South Africans and other nationalities waited with bated breath to see how law enforcement in this province would manage to maintain the peace and stability during this period, from campaigning all the way to the elections and beyond,” Mkhwanazi said.

“The police in KwaZulu-Natal knew and understood the task that we had at hand and, working together with other law enforcement agencies, including the SANDF [SA National Defence Force], the State Security Agency, Metro Police and other law enforcement agencies, correctional services, as well as all our reliable partners in the private security industry, the province of KwaZulu Natal was, and remains, stable during this process of elections,” he said.

“We hope, going forward, it will remain stable. Operations are still ongoing, as we are out there on the ground.

“Policing in this election was not without challenges. From February this year, police in this province had to deal with over 900 incidents of protest action. Although 690 of them were peaceful, police had to contain 211 unrest situations,” he said.

Ethekwini and Ugu Municipality were most affected.

“A total of 68 election-related cases were registered in this province and 24 suspects were arrested. These cases ranged from pointing and discharging a firearm; removing and concealing voting material; obstructing or hindering IEC officials in their duties; intimidation; defacing or unlawful removal of posters; possession of firearms and different forms of assault to fraud,” he said.

Of the 24 suspects arrested three remained in custody. The others had been released on bail. 

Mkhwanazi said there were four murders reported across the province on election day but they were not related to the polls. 

No place for politicking

“After reminding our police officers that they are not politicians, and should leave politics to politicians, two of our members were removed from the deployment to secure these elections. This is after the video that was trending on social media, where one of them was wearing the regalia of a political party. The members were duly suspended,” he said.

“As the investigation unfolds, internal disciplinary steps will follow. We cannot have members of the South African Police Service choosing sides, especially when it comes to politics. Our role in politics is only to vote for the political parties that we favour, and more importantly, to protect the citizens and remain unaffected by political parties.”

Regarding the planning that took place before the election date was announced, he said: “We started coordinating and spending sleepless nights putting the plan together to make sure that every resident in this province, and every participant in this election, is going to be protected. Intelligence was on the ground collecting important information that assists us in planning,” he said.

“When many people were panicking in those long queues, and many analysts were doubting the capabilities of law enforcement in the townships, in the city centres … the security cluster stuck to their guard and prevented any lawlessness and anyone that was trying to disturb the elections,” Mkhwanazi said.

“The operation is not yet over. We urge all our officers not to lose focus on this period. Police officers are expected to be on their guard at all times as our intelligence is on the ground doing its business, collecting the most important information that will inform us what’s going on in the days ahead.

“We urge all political parties, especially the party leaders, to spread a message of responsibility when results go out. We appeal to those who will emerge victorious to celebrate responsibly. Police will be out there to ensure that no law is broken during this period,” Mkhwanazi said.

He urged political party supporters to avoid provoking others and those who were being provoked to uphold the law and avoid confrontation.