It may only be a matter of time before there is more July 2021-style unrest – report


The official report into the civil unrest of July 2021 has warned that it may only be a matter of time until more unrest occurs, as the conditions that led to last year’s violence and looting remain firmly in place.

On 7 February, the Presidency released the report by the Expert Panel on the unrest, which was compiled by Professor Sandy Africa as chairperson, along with Silumko Sokupa and Advocate Mojanku Gumbi, in the wake of public violence, destruction and sabotage that claimed 300 lives in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The report is dated 29 November 2021, but President Cyril Ramaphosa tabled the report at a meeting of the National Security Council on 4 February. 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.

Ramaphosa will, in his State of Nation Address on Thursday, 10 February, outline the first actions government will take in response to the findings and recommendations of the report. Further actions will be announced in due course.

In its introduction, the authors said that, “Our analysis suggests that a combination of complex, multi-dimensional, and obscure factors formed the background and led to the outbreak of violence never before seen in our post-apartheid democracy, leading to contestations in the public space, including between senior members of government, over how to characterise it.

“The looting, destruction and violence have come and gone, but we found that little has changed in the conditions that led to the unrest, leaving the public worried that there might be similar eruptions of large-scale unrest in future. The question, many argue, is not if and whether more unrest and violence will occur, but when it will occur.”

The authors said the fear of many is that a repeat of such violence will find ground in the all-too-familiar contexts of negative political contestation, where certain interests take advantage of the levels of poverty, inequality, lack of service delivery and social tensions to advance their cause. There also is a worry that the violence has left behind a sense of uncertainty and vulnerability because of the ineffective response of the security services and an appetite for lawlessness by those who might feel emboldened by the apparent lack of state capacity.

“This bleak prospect can be avoided if there is a clear understanding of what happened, and better planning and coordination leading to a coherent approach in dealing with the mounting social and political challenges that our society is facing.

“Perhaps the most significant input made, which we heard several times, was that what appears to be factional battles in the African National Congress, have become a serious source of instability in the country. This is a matter of great concern, and the reasons for this need to be identified sooner rather than later.

“For their part, the security services are uncertain about how to effectively address this convergence of violent criminal conduct with mainstream politics, given the correct posture taken by the country to ensure that political activity stays free of state security interference.”

The report offered several recommendations, such as Cabinet taking responsibility for the unrest; the establishment of an early warning capability; better intelligence coordination; that problems within the security apparatus be addressed; and that Ramaphosa draw up a national security strategy that should be reviewed at three-year intervals or when circumstances require.

It also recommended a change in the appointment procedure of the National Police Commissioner; that the government should look into introducing basic police training to military recruits so they can perform better when assisting the police; and that additional assets like key contributors to food production be listed as critical infrastructure.

“Our review highlighted yet again the urgent need to build an equal, inclusive and just society, if there is to be lasting peace and stability,” the report said. It urged the “reimagining of the social compact, and giving dignity to all,” as deep radicalised poverty and inequality “will only see greater insecurity, which will require more diversion of resources to security.”

“Government should pay close attention to the issues of poverty, underdevelopment and inequality. While we accept that the issues are top of mind, there does not seem to exist a clear plan, with budgets and a timetable, to effectively address this matter. If one adds the general unhappiness with corruption within the ruling party many of the interlocutors that appeared before us warned that what happened in July will definitely happen again if these matters are not addressed.”

The report added that the division within the ANC contributed to the unrest and should be addressed “as a matter of national security now”.