President Cyril Ramaphosa used his sixth State of the Nation Address (SONA) from the Cape Town City Hall yesterday (10 February) to respond to “a deeply disturbing picture of the capabilities of (South Africa’s) security services”.
The charge is one of a number pointing fingers at the Ramaphosa Cabinet, especially its Justice and Security Cluster, in the wake of violence and looting across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last July. The unrest, termed an “insurrection” by some politicians, prompted Ramaphosa to appoint a three-strong panel to investigate the causes that reportedly wiped R50 billion from the national economy in addition to leaving over 300 dead and vast amounts of public and private infrastructure broken, if not damaged beyond repair.
Taking it on the chin, the President said “Cabinet acknowledges and accepts overall responsibility for the events of July 2021”.
He told those present and a television audience across all three South African news channels: “The report concludes government’s initial handling of the July 2021 events was inept, police operational planning was poor, there was poor co-ordination between the state security and intelligence services and police are not always embedded in the communities they serve”.
While the reaction of Minister Bheki Cele’s SA Police Service (SAPS) was criticised in the report, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was largely unscathed.
The report has it that, from the perspective of freeing up police to contain rioting, deployment of soldiers to guard national key points (NKPs), was “timely and effective”.
Also on the SANDF deployment, the report states “the arrival and continued presence of SANDF members went a long way in assisting to calm down the situation”.
A national response plan will be developed and driven to address “weaknesses identified by the panel”.
First up is filling “critical vacancies and addressing positions affected by suspensions in the State Security Agency and (SA Police Service) Crime Intelligence,” Ramaphosa said, adding leadership changes to strengthen South Africa’s security structures will be announced “soon”.
Going further, he said observations by the expert panel that “a more inclusive approach to assessing threats to our country’s security and determining the necessary responses” was needed and would be taken further through a still to be developed National Security Strategy (NSS).
“The security services have been tasked by the National Security Council to urgently develop implementation plans that address the range of recommendations made by the expert panel. These measures will go a long way to addressing the serious concerns about the breakdown of law and order in society.”
Discussing other security issues, Ramaphosa said government has established specialised multi-disciplinary units to address economic sabotage, extortion at construction sites and vandalism of infrastructure.
“We will make resources available to recruit and train an additional 12 000 new police personnel to ensure that the SAPS urgently gets the capacity it needs,” the President said.
Ramaphosa said another area of immediate attention will be the re-establishment of community policing forums to improve relations and coordination between local police and residents of the areas they serve.
“It is clear from the observations of the expert panel that we need to take a more inclusive approach to assessing the threats to our country’s security and determining the necessary responses.
“I am calling on all South Africans through their various formations to participate in developing our National Security Strategy,” Ramaphosa said.
A total of R1.5 billion was approved to support businesses affected by the looting and unrest in July last year.
Security services have been tasked by the National Security Council to urgently develop implementation plans that address the range of recommendations made by the expert panel.