President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday the government would not allow “anarchy and mayhem” to prevail in South Africa after violence this week which he suggested had been deliberately provoked in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Ramaphosa made the remarks when he visited Ethekwini Municipality, which includes the port city Durban, one of the areas worst hit in a week of looting and arson that destroyed hundreds of businesses and killed more than 100 people. 1 400 have been arrested and the President earlier this week deployed soldiers to assist police and metro police to restore order.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said more than 2 000 soldiers are already on the streets of KwaZulu-Natal in 200 vehicles.
The president said the government was doing everything it could to deal with unrest which he said had severely dented investor confidence and hit South Africa’s economic recovery.
“We will not allow anarchy and mayhem,” Ramaphosa said during his visit. He was accompanied by Police Minister Bheki Cele, his State Security and Defence counterparts Ayanda Dlodlo and Nosiziwe Mapisa-Nqakula, as well as KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala and members of his executive. The Ministers, Premier and MECs have been on the ground in a bid to quell tensions.
“Obviously, as a government, we are extremely, extremely concerned about what happened here and we are doing everything to deal with it,” Ramaphosa said, adding that it was abundantly clear that the unrest and looting was instigated.
“There were people who planned this and coordinated it. Our intelligence services and our police have now got a line of sight of what actually was happening here. We are after those people, we are going after them.” Security officials have identified 12 suspects behind the alleged insurrection.
“We will not allow anarchy and mayhem to just unfold in our country. It is most unfortunate that so much damage has been done to the country and people have lost their lives – that is the most concerning issue,” he said.
The country’s image as an economic destination had been severely dented, not just to local investors but also to external investors. “We’ve really been taken backwards on our path to economic recovery.”
The President conceded that government could have done better in managing its response to the protests. “Primary in the minds of the Minister of Police and commanders was to save lives, to make sure that we did not get into a situation which could have resulted in more mayhem,” he said.
The President reiterated that the situation could have been much worse. “We regret that the situation has resulted in this. This is not what we want to see in our country.”
Government will re-examine what the country needs to do to protect its citizenry.
While applauding certain communities for taking it upon themselves to defend themselves and their assets, President Ramaphosa said it was unfortunate that some had gone beyond the parameters of the law.
“We welcome the fact that ordinary citizens are working together with the security forces, standing up not only to defend their own assets, but also defending our democracy because they can see that this is an assault,” he said.
As violence appeared to be abating, companies were working to restart operations and calm was returning in parts of the commercial capital Johannesburg, though most shops remained shut. Pockets of unrest remained on Friday, and eNCA television reported that a business park was torched overnight in Isipingo, a town south of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
The official death toll stood at 91 in KwaZulu-Natal, and 26 in Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg, making a total of 117 killed.
Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police (PCP) met on Friday morning to discuss the unrest, and were told by the police ministry that the situation is calm in Gauteng and relatively calm in KwaZulu-Natal, with sporadic looting incidents. Security forces have been deployed to the harbour, airport, at risk malls, refineries and the N3 highway.
In a presentation, the police ministry said there was no indication of widespread planning of a national shutdown.
More than 28 000 security personnel are currently deployed to quell unrest across the country, including 12 600 police and 2 000 soldiers, with more on the way. They are monitoring critical infrastructure, including airports, harbours, trade routes, shopping centres, hospitals, warehouses etc. The police ministry said it will cost an estimated R350 million for the stabilisation deployments in July. Some of the extra expenditure comes from increased use of vehicles and inventory items including ammunition, water cannon, barb wire etc.
A total of 2 200 suspects have been arrested, mostly in KwaZulu-Natal (1 400), and 1 200 dockets registered, with 246 dockets to court.
Regarding the arrest of instigators and ring leaders, 12 individuals have been identified who have allegedly been engaged in on-line activities related to the instigation of the public protests. Three have been prioritised and an individual, not part of above 12, was arrested in the West Rand, Gauteng, on Friday morning for inciting violence through social media.
JSCD welcomes deployment of troops
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has called up all its reservists to bolster the army and police, with a total of 25 000 troops available to go to flashpoints.
Following Wednesday’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meeting, a Parliamentary Communication Services statement had it the deployment of soldiers “to gain control over areas affected by security challenges” was welcome.
“The increase in availability of forces should allow the SANDF to effectively support the SA Police Service (SAPS) operations, allow for increased response to looting and violence and secure National Key Points where necessary,” Cyril Xaba, JSCD co-chairperson said in a statement.
The committee condemned the violence especially in the context of its impact on the economy. “The unrest damaged the reputation of the country and undermined efforts to put the economy on an upward trajectory again,” Elleck Nchabeleng, committee co-chairperson, said according to the statement.
On the tenfold increase in soldier deployment the statement has Xaba on record saying “implementation of scaling up deployment is critical in that it prevents the need for a state of emergency as some benefits, such as a curfew, have been attained through the current in place state of disaster”.
The JSCD co-chairs repeat the defence oversight committee’s “condemnation of violence and disobedience of the rule of law because the negative impact of violence, wanton looting and vandalism of infrastructure will have on an already ailing economy”.
Counting the costs
The long-term social and economic cost of the unrest was becoming clearer on Friday, with calls for the government to address underlying problems to head off more violence and despair.
The ransacking of stores has left food and other essentials in short supply.
State logistics group Transnet said operations at Durban and Richards Bay ports were improving though road closures and fuel and food shortages were constraining its supply chain.
“The Port of Richards Bay has managed to clear all shipping backlogs,” Transnet said.
Retailer Massmart said protesters had looted 41 of its stores and two distribution centres, with four sites suffering significant damage from arson, during the unrest.
The government has characterised the violence as criminality. But the Nelson Mandela Foundation – a legacy of the late leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and South Africa’s first Black president – said violence had been growing at “disturbing levels” in the last two decades and was now regarded as normal.
The state has focused on strengthening law enforcement but neglected strategies to tackle the problems’ roots, it said. “There are too many people feeling discarded and in despair, too many people with nothing to lose, too many people who have seen political and other elites at all levels play fast and loose with the law, with impunity,” the foundation said.
The head of Statistics South Africa, Risenga Maluleke, said it could take years to rebuild damaged infrastructure, and small businesses “will find it difficult to rise from the ashes”.
This would lead to even more unemployment, he said. Most of the people in the streets were youths with few job prospects and limited education opportunities.
“There is no doubt that this generation is bound from birth to death with poverty and unemployment,” he said.
Half of South Africans live below the official poverty line and unemployment stood at a record 32% in the first three months of 2021, due partly to the impact of COVID-19.