Unprepared intelligence structures should have anticipated civil unrest


The entire security cluster was caught unprepared to deal with July’s civil unrest, and should have anticipated it and taken appropriate measures to pre-empt what happened, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police has heard.

In a draft report by the Portfolio Committee on Police earlier this month on the oversight visits to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to assess the impact of the violent protests in July, the Committee observed “that the entire security cluster was caught unprepared” and “even more disturbing was the information that suggested the police ran out of supplies to deal with the protests. Such incidents lead to the communities losing faith in the ability of the police to protect them, which ultimately lead to communities mobilising in an effort to protect themselves”.

There were glaring lapses of the intelligence community, according to the Committee, as reports suggested that the State Security Agency did provide Police Minister Bheki Cele a dossier that violent protests were going to erupt. “The Police Minister denied receiving such intelligence from the State Security Minister, stressing that despite being overwhelmed by the situation, the police did their best to repel the violent protesters.”

The Committee also raised concerns regarding the deployment of Public Order Policing (POP) units to hotspot areas as very few were visible on the ground where looting was taking place. The Police responded by saying they were severely stretched and simply did not have the numbers to deal with the protesters. The leadership of the POPs in the province responded with a detailed report on the deployment in the province, which painted a picture of heavily under-resourced unit that was stretched to the limit by protests, Parliament heard.

“There were even more worrying reports that some law enforcement officials took part in the looting.” The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) was urged to investigate all allegations of looting by law enforcement officers and ten officials have since been charged for allegedly taking part in the looting.

Cele told the Committee that severe budget cuts to the tune of R11 billion was affecting the overall performance of the department. In addition to members leaving the service on yearly basis, the South African Police Service (SAPS) had been unable to train 7 000 new recruits in two consecutive years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and budgetary constraints.

The Portfolio Committee on Police said that intelligence structures should have anticipated the unrest and measures should have been taken to pre-empt and avoid what happened. It stated that Public Order Policing units needs to be capacitated, as it became clear that are not up to dealing with violent protests.

The Committee made a number of observations and recommendations, including that other departments such as Social Development play a role in bringing about social cohesion amongst communities in KwaZulu-Natal. Technology should be used in fighting crime and police stations should be better resourced so that communities do not resort to vigilantism.

The issue of recruitment and high staff turnover needs to be addressed, along with the police to population ratio, which the Committee said “is not practical for effective policing. Engagement with the National Treasury must be a priority to ensuring that adequate resources are provided.”

The Committee added that the SAPS has a lot to do in regaining the confidence of the citizens.