The South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) response to the July 2021 civil unrest that rocked KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng was timely and effective, but the SANDF should look at introducing basic police training to military recruits for when it is called to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS).
This was one of the recommendations from the Panel of Experts report into the July 2021 unrest. The report, released on 7 February, recalled that 25 000 members of the SANDF were authorised to be deployed to combat the unrest and that the presence of the soldiers on the ground, with their show of force, had the effect of bringing the situation under control and restoring order.
“The arrival and continued presence of the SANDF members went a long way in assisting to calm down the situation. The SANDF members were deployed initially to National Key Points, which freed SAPS officers to try and contain the riots. Looked at from this perspective, the SANDF response was timely and effective,” the report’s authors found.
“Although the police, and indeed some members of the public felt that the SANDF members arrived on the scene a little late, the SANDF believes that theirs was the fastest turnaround time for a military operation. The SANDF keeps a Company in every province but, for reasons of preservation and care, they keep most of their larger hardware in Lohatla, Northern Cape.”
The SANDF did, however, experience difficulties in rapidly procuring supplies for deployed members as a result of supply chain requirements and this is something the government should look into.
The report also recommended the authorization process for the employment of the SANDF, and the request to the President, must be streamlined to avoid unnecessary delay.
One of its key findings was that due to budgetary constraints, the number of police that can be deployed is limited and from time to time members of the SANDF may be called upon to assist the police in the execution of their duties. “There is, however, no policy to require that members of the SANDF at the outset be trained in policing duties, such that they are always ready to perform this secondary role if called upon to do so. We should look into introducing basic police training to military recruits, rather that the proposal to create a separate military police unit.”
In terms of the overall security response to the July 2021 unrest, the report found that insufficient budgets, unfilled vacancies and the absence of people appointed in key management positions may have contributed to the lacklustre performance of the security services.
The panel of experts blamed the police for failing to stop the rioting and looting in July. “The reasons for this failure are complex and sometimes not of their making. In some instances, they did not get any intelligence upon which to plan operations. It is not clear why this was so, but one of the reasons may be that at least six members of the senior leadership of CI were suspended in the period leading up to the outbreak of the violence. It would be difficult for an organisation that had been hollowed out in that manner to rise to the occasion in times of crisis.”
“Overall, we have come to the conclusion that there was a failure by the intelligence structures to anticipate and respond adequately to the violence. Our findings are based on the following observations:
• Failure of the relevant State institutions to conduct timely risk assessments, despite the constant attacks on the authority of the state by some individuals and organisations;
• Input that we received from a forensic expert that the riots bore the hallmarks of a group of people being behind the organisation thereof, using technology as the primary mode of organisation;
• The methods employed took the police by surprise and they were unable to adapt their tactics to the situation facing them;
• The police were inadequately equipped and they ran out of crowd control equipment;
• The Police were overwhelmed by the number of looters. There may be incidents in future were numbers are big. There must be a way for the POP to control large crowds.
“It goes without saying that the capacity of the security services needs to be strengthened to respond effectively to all situations,” the panel of experts stated.
“Most important of all, government, at all levels, must seriously attend to the socio-economic challenges facing the country. We will be failing in our duty if we fail to express the profound frustration from, in particular the civil society, business and security sector delegations we met, that the government is not paying sufficient attention to this matter.”
The authors added that the internal contradictions within the ANC are impacting negatively on governance matters and need to be resolved.