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FRONTLINE | #UnrestSA: Lootings occurred in areas with history of violence

  • Experts say the recent unrest in South Africa has laid bare ANC factional battles.
  • The SAPS was absent on the ground, with more metro police present.
  • Dr Jean Redpath, senior researcher at UWC’s Dullah Omar Institute, says SAPS’ inadequacy raises questions about whether it was “compromised”. 

The recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng took place in areas with a history of violence, with the country’s security and intelligence cluster playing a minimal role in preventing the chaos.

These are the sentiments of four panellists who joined News24 editor Adriaan Basson on Frontline on Thursday afternoon. 

The panellists were Tshwane University of Technology’s Professor Jacob Mofokeng, the Institute for Security Studies’ Dr Jakkie Cilliers, the University of the Western Cape’s Dr Jean Redpath, and Stellenbosch University’s Dr Guy Lamb. 

The four discussed the extent of the violence that claimed the lives of more than 300 people, what the intelligence and police clusters failed to do and could have done, and how similar incidents could be avoided in the future. 

The violence, specifically in KwaZulu-Natal, had a historical context embedded in the transition from the apartheid era to a democratic South Africa, said Redpath. 

“What we have in KwaZulu-Natal is an inheritance from 1994… the KwaZulu police were a strong force, they were very, very great fears at the time. KwaZulu police would become a force on their own…” 

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She said what happened could be interpreted in two ways; inadequacy and/or the deliberate failure to stop the violence. Redpath said that KwaZulu-Natal policing had a legacy of inadequacy, especially in rural areas that were densely populated. 

She said the policing from the 1980s was inherited and maintained. 

She said:

So there is an interpretation that that says that this was due to inadequacy, that policing numbers in KwaZulu-Natal are proportionally much less than what we see in the rest of the country, so there was an inadequacy.

“The other is that it was a deliberate failure to respond to the violence, which occurred, because of the compromise of elements within the national police. 

“We know national police have been compromised, particularly Crime Intelligence and we know that policing in the province is compromised. So, those two interpretations could both be true, or either of them could be either way.”

Lamb said, although lootings were previously seen in the country during xenophobic attacks in 2008, 2015 and 2019, the extent of unrest two weeks ago was a first in a democratic South Africa. 

“But it’s not surprising that it’s happened in certain parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, because these are also parts of the country that were also affected by intense violence during the sort of political transitions, early 90s,” he said. 

Lamb said the riots had exposed the fact that the country was faced with a “violence problem”. 

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He said it was clear that violence could quickly be activated, and there seemed to be forces, networks and groups at play.

Lamb added that, while the events raised questions around security and intelligence in South Africa, they also exposed “real challenges” within the ruling party. 

He said party challenges were seen during the debate among officials on whether the attacks were “insurrection”. 

“It does seem to be that a lot of this has to do with fights and battles within the ruling party; the kind of push for the term ‘insurrection’ is a way to describe and characterise this violence as undemocratic, as something all South Africans should be against rather than more this is about internal factional that spilt out beyond the ANC,” Lamb said. 

Cilliers said what the country experienced was the extent of how ANC factional battles were now a national problem, which should be of concern. 

He said:

Not only did we see a complete failure of intelligence, because it’s been captured, and instrumentalised, in this factional battle, but we also see the absence of basic crime analysis, trend analysis. That’s not rocket science. Our work at the Institute would indicate that 75% of the violence reoccurred in each area that [has] a long history of violence.

President Cyril Ramaphosa needed to start with reform, starting with his Cabinet. 

Cilliers said the unrest also reflected the extent to which former president Jacob Zuma had given attention to the security cluster, instrumentalised the intelligence sector, and backed them with “cadres loyal to him, mostly from uMkhonto Wesizwe.” 

He added that Ramaphosa, on the other hand, was not focusing on that, but rather on economics, trying to secure investments and reforming by fighting corruption. 

“And I think that what has happened underlines the importance of stepping back and taking a comprehensive approach to who should be doing what,” Cilliers said.    

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Mofokeng said the incidents showed that the country was led by people who “did not take their jobs and responsibilities seriously.”

He said because such incidents were experienced in the past, police should have identified and been prepared for a repeat. 

Mofokeng said it was clear that the police who were on the ground were outnumbered. 

“Indeed, it shows that there is no communication or coordination between the police minister, commissioner, as well as the Crime Intelligence divisional commissioner.” 

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