National key points one of many problem areas in July unrest report


The expert panel appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to report on last year’s widespread civil unrest is scathing of a number of Cabinet Ministers and also found faults in any number of areas including national key points (NKPs).

While these are supposedly no longer part of the South African legislative lexicon having been replaced by “critical infrastructure” in a 2019 Act, the NKPs phrase is still widely used. It is found in the Report of the Expert Panel into the July 2021 civil unrest and is regularly used in and by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and SA Police Service (SAPS) officers in statements and other communications. Some sites classed NKPs, for example the SA Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA) based at Pelindaba west of Pretoria and Eskom power stations, provide their own security.

Protection of KNPs was a task specifically assigned to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) when it was mobilised by way of a Presidential Minute to assist police in ending violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July 2021. Other duties soldiers were instructed to execute included patrols, roadblocks and vehicle control points, preserving life and public property, cordons and searches, firefighting, airborne command and control, trooping, escort duties and casualty evacuations.

The torching of the Mooi River toll plaza on the N3 a day after Jacob Zuma presented himself at the Estcourt Correctional Services facility to begin serving a sentence for contempt of court is widely accepted as the spark that gave fire to the orgy of looting, killing and violence. The N3 linking Gauteng with the east coast port city Durban is one of South Africa’s major economic arteries and toll plazas on it are regularly patrolled by municipal and provincial traffic law enforcement with support from police and soldiers when violence, such as truck driver strikes, erupts.

The report notes: “The importance of arterial road networks, such as the N3, which became practically impassable, was highlighted by violence on these routes”.

On Transnet infrastructure the report states, in part, some of the SOC’s (State-owned company’s) “major assets and operations straddle the provinces most affected by the violence”.  Two major ports, Richards Bay and Durban, are important logistics hubs for the country and South Africa’s multi-purpose oil pipeline originates in eThekwini.

The Presidentially appointed task team writes: “it learnt much of the Transnet infrastructure is not classified as NKPs, even though it is critical to the economy. Of the multi-purpose pipeline, only the valves and fuel depots are regarded as NKPs and subjected to the rigorous standards of protecting them. As a result, illegal occupation of land under which the oil pipeline runs happens frequently, enabling theft from this infrastructure.

“Ports are not classified as NKPs, a decision having been taken to declassify them in the 1990s. As a result, not all ports are under the protection of naval bases, leaving this infrastructure vulnerable. None of the railway lines are designated as NKPs. In this context Transnet relies heavily on private security service providers meaning information about this critical infrastructure is in the hands of private interests.

“It was fortunate Transnet did not experience any major incidents during the unrest. A cyber-attack during the same period seems to be unrelated to the violence.”

Transnet, according to the report, wants to pursue “designation of certain infrastructure as critical infrastructure or NKPs in terms of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act”.

Organised business told the team it wants strategic distribution centres as well as fuel pipelines, water treatment plants, and certain chemical facilities to be allocated NKP status.

Apart from recommending Ramaphosa’s Cabinet takes overall responsibility for the unrest, violence and deaths, the report notes “a significant intelligence failure” contributed, adding the response of police and intelligence services was “unequivocally” not timeous, appropriate and sufficient.

Ramaphosa will in his State of Nation Address on Thursday outline the first actions government will take in response to the findings and recommendations of the expert panel appointed in August 2021 to review government’s response to the July 2021 unrest.

“Further actions will be announced in due course,” the Presidency said in a statement.

The President tabled the report of the expert panel at a meeting of the National Security Council on Friday, 4 February 2022.

“The Council, which is chaired by the President, welcomed the report and the insights it provides on the work of and challenges faced by security services, law enforcement agencies and relevant organs of state,” the Presidency said.