Opinion: Could the security crisis from 12 July be viewed as “revolution within revolution”?


The uninvited appearance of the Chief of the South African National Defence Force at a virtual meeting organised and hosted by the Chairperson and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence from 18:00 hours on Sunday, 18 July 2021, where he contributed meaningfully to shaping the deliberations and future prospects on the evolving security situation, is quite encouraging.

Setting up and hosting such a virtual platform out of Parliamentary recess by these compatriots in tandem with voluntary attendance of the Chief of the South African National Defence Force, had demonstrated national resolve to live up to their public duty call which, somewhat, gives hope for the future leadership in the National Assembly and South African National Defence Force, respectively.

Equally, dashing out of the meeting by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans even if she tendered apologies upfront does not resonate well with some of us, unless our priorities and levels of engagements are not understood at all during the hard trying times. Here is a national security crisis that requires brains at the national level and tendering an apology for another meeting does not make any national security sense and meaning. In priority list, which one of these meetings, if there were any way, would assume level one priority?

Giving analysis of the kind of security animal that created mayhem and security havoc as from Monday, 12 July, one would begin by looking at its genesis to the build up and the culmination, thereof. What started as indicators towards flouting the principles of good governance by the members of the ruling National Executives was politically covered up and manifested itself through employment of political protectionism policy and the use of majority political muscle in the National Assembly? Notwithstanding the fact that it became instrumental in factional politics within the ruling party to the extent of losing its much needed focus on the national agenda issues. The political animal grew up to challenge the national justice system and, on adulthood, it graduated and had demonstrated its ability to challenge the entire national security. In other words, what was initially a Political Challenge, graduated to become a Judiciary Problem and later matured to become National Security Threat.

Today, the nation finds itself confronted with issues threatening our livelihood, nationhood and statehood, respectively. The relevant question posed by the Chairperson of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence was: do we have common understanding of the type of security challenge the nation is confronted with today, citing various views from the former to the sitting Presidents, the Ministers of State Security, Police, and Defence, respectively.

One school of thought, among many, views what emerged of 12 July as “Counter Revolutionary Insurgency”, the other cited this as “Attempted and Failed Insurrection because People did not support it”, the Minister of Defence cited it as “Not Insurrection, but Counter Revolution”, Minister of State Security remarked to say “we are not dealing with the Coup or Attempted Coup”, and the Minister of Police “we are dealing with a smokescreen, this thing of looting and torching of the infrastructure is just a smokescreen, the plan was to attack certain installation and that if did not intervene in time assisted by intelligence we should be talking something else and then this a crime against the state”.

The question from the Chair was: “How do we prepare when you do not know what you are dealing with…” The analytical views of the Chairperson followed key critical questions from Mr K. Marais (MP) regarding the Modus Operandi of the masterminds behind the security anarchy as we all witnessed from last Monday, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, General H.B. Holomisa’s (MP) proposition for an integrated analytical approach by the like-minded Joint Standing Committees of the Security Cluster in Parliament so that one common understanding of the current state of security affairs is communicated with a single voice than a variety as is currently is the case according to Mr C. Xaba MP.

One can also add another dimension to spice it as “Revolution within Revolution”. Examining all these analytical views and interpretations, in meaning, have something common and which is an element of threat to the national security, whichever terminology is used. The orchestrated elements of propaganda, incitement, insurrection, counter revolutionary insurgency, economic sabotage intentionally seek to take over power by acts of subversion which somehow qualify the variety of these views, but equally agree that there should be a common understanding.

The national security pillars of the state were subversively undermined, attacked and sabotaged in the process, namely, Good Governance, Political, Judiciary, Economic, Social, Security, Infrastructure, etcetera. This will require a holistic approach to analysing, determining, identifying, diagnosing and solving the challenge in question. On the other hand, the notion and expectation of the judiciary to defer its warrant of arrest or conviction or undo its own judgement from other quarters would simply compromise the exercise and administration of justice and, therefore, reduce the justice system to a mere kangaroo practice with our National Constitution becoming a book of drama.

The mere regard of the military as the last national line of defence on challenges emanating from political issues to socio-economic matters of the unemployed, poor and marginalised is simply, and partly, a manifestation of losing touch with realities on the part of advocators of that notion. Judiciary and hard core security are means to an end which, by their deliverables, level the playing fields for Good Governance to prevail.

Once again, the security crisis that the country finds itself confronted with as from 12 July reminded the nation a couple of lessons. Firstly, that issue of national interests will unite the nation, hence the demonstrated resilience of the larger society against this recent onslaught, whilst party political interests will factionalise and fragment it. Secondly, issues of governance are not a preserve of only the ruling party, but also of opposition parties, especially when the trajectory of the national agenda is geared towards nation building even though the nature of organisational construct remains political.

The uniqueness of South Africa’s political setting was foreseen by our founding fathers and mothers of our democratic dispensation that, more often than not, it requires a Government of National Unity realising the fact that the voices of the opposition could not just be relegated to the periphery. All inclusive approach to the wholesale governance of the country merits also the active participation of the seasoned politicians at the national executive level.

Simply, the winner takes all attitudes and approaches to governance would help us regress than develop. There is vast untapped intellectual resource outside the ruling party which would contribute meaningfully, given space, towards the development of our nationhood. Much as there is convergence views to the effect of deterrence by the employment of military in support of the police deployment of military capabilities should be commensurate with the nature and character of threat.

The deployment of hard core prime mission equipment of the nature of tanks would be better understood and relevant in conventional warfare and during the evolution of a mobile phase of an unconventional war setting, even in an urban environment. What we see is a total overkill and unwarranted, soft skin vehicles and air transport for the movement of troops suffice for this large scale looting.

In conclusion, the questions that remain for national pondering are: Are there any clear and concerted efforts for a change of course to addressing the plight of poor and marginalised at political level in the short, medium to long terms, respectively? On the side of the security sector, how ready is the security sector in terms of their structural make up and force preparation to dealing with these security scenarios in future? Developing security capabilities is not a mere matter of days, but years. Now is the time to begin to shape up for any security eventuality for tomorrow may never come.

Written by Major General (rtd) Ashton M Sibango, former Chief of Staff of the South African National Defence Force’s Joint Operations Division.