Opinion: Worst of SA’s unrest still to come


The looting spree that appeared to have surprised the rest of law abiding South Africans and the Security Sector, especially the Intelligence Agencies and South African Police Service on Monday, 12 July in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng should be viewed as the precursor of the worst mayhem still to come.

This assertion is held on the basis of the greater marginal gap that is getting wider and wider between the rich and the poor which is partly due to the conspicuous corrupt looting of the public purse by public office bearers in tandem with cronies within the private sector with impunity.

Is looting of retail stores a new phenomenon in South Africa during protest marches? South Africans would recall that there is historic background to this general criminal behaviour and conduct by mostly the poor and marginalised ever since the intensification of the protests marches in the country for service delivery among other reasons.

Other than the ordinary and responsible nationals, could it be true that the security sector was surprised? Much as there are no claims to the effect that the security sector was surprised, but by the looks of the developing security challenges as from the said day, one could conceive of the notion.

Observing and listening on the reasons advanced for the so “called protest marches calling for the release of former President J.Z. Zuma”, one is tempted to refute the notion of a protest as baseless and devoid of any truth and reality, but can merely pin this down to orchestrated acts of incitements by criminal and propagandist elements who may have materially benefited during the former president’s terms in office.

With the tide turning for the Rule of Law against the beneficiaries out of wide spread corruption in the public sector, it is common cause and knowledge that these elements can employ whatever it takes to create anarchy because, by their nature opportunity leadership usually emerges out of any crisis situations. The protest marches, as we know, take the form of identified entity or entities to which the agitation is directed, communicated and presented.

In this scenario from Monday to date, it would most probably be the Union Building, the Courts of Law and Escort Correctional Facility where the former President is kept; instead we are witnessing the destruction of properties and looting of retail stores. One would opine that most of those who participated in the looting may not all have anything to do with the imprisonment of the former president, but exploiting to predate on the prevailing anarchical situation under the guise and burner of “#Release ZJ Protest”.

Secondly, from the briefing of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster on 13 July 2021 the nation was made to believe by the Minister of State Security that “Swift State security intelligence intervention spared Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal further destruction of businesses and public infrastructure”.

The Minister addressed more of reactive measures and remained mum on proactive measures. If, as she claimed that her well capacitated intelligence entity shared intelligence information with SAPS as a client, this would suggest that the police did not react on the basis of the shared intelligence, which is not convincing, but appeared to have subtly passed the buck to the Police Department, wittingly or unwittingly. What would be expected, though, and which is usually the standard practice given her reportedly shared information with the SAPS, firstly, the Provincial Joint Operations Centres of the would be affected KwaZuluNatal and Gauteng Provinces under the strategic direction of the National Joints Operations Centre would have been activated long before Monday, 12 July if there was intelligence anyway.

Secondly, the formed Police Structure Elements would be proactively deployed in both provinces than what the police fire fighting response witnessed on Monday turned out to be. The former and the latter activities would have followed after scenario based approach and planning. A number of security gaps that required much needed attention from the National Executive manifested themselves out of these criminal events as from Monday, namely, the questions around gathering intelligence information to be acted upon, given the claimed shared intelligence with the client, more often than not, SAPS does act on crime intelligence; the question that arises why this time around SAPS was unable to plan ahead and deploy proactively if the intelligence information was available and really shared anyway?

The question of general state of readiness and rapid reaction capability of the security apparatus to cater for these worst case scenario settings, particularly our Police Service, speaks to police structural makeup. If available, is it fully fledged to live up to its mandate? If lessons learnt are anything to go by the security sector is supposed to have long gathered lessons from unauthorised protest marches that are characterised with criminal elements and looting, though such protests previously had never reached the scale witnessed as from 12 July.

It is high time that intelligence services in South Africa should effectively discharge their duties as mandated because for now they are doing disservice to South African nationals even though they are sufficiently capacitated, comparatively speaking to other state security organs. It is no rocket science to understand that this is the act of highly sophisticated instigators and propagandists hell-bent to create havoc, mayhem, anarchy and security crisis aimed at making the country ungovernable.

SAPS should consider going back to the drawing boards, as it extinguishes the fire, and work out required structural capabilities in an endeavour to capacitate them with the view to dealing with the worst case scenarios similar to the current one for medium to long term with the full support of the National Executive.

The Minister of Police should, as a matter of urgency, spare and accord the National Commissioner and his council of Deputy National and Provincial Commissioners breathing space to strategically direct police national resources at their disposal. We have witnessed on numerous occasions the Minister of Police in a whirlwind tour of every single crime scene whenever it occurs all over the country accompanied by his top commissioners, without choice, when they are supposed to be strategically evaluating and reviewing police crime strategies and tactics. Much as it appears to be good for political spotlight, publicity and public relations, it does not help the professional high ranking police officials to concentrate on thinking strategically from time to time.

What appears to be localised in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provinces, for now, may soon affect other provinces. Truth be told, as the President had reflected, that this started as ethnic mobilisation and turned out to be widespread on account of the criminal and propagandist argument already advanced.

This looting spree can be equated to concerted criminal efforts to sabotage the national economy with far-reaching implications to the country’s socio economic developmental agenda. For now it manifests itself as looting, what if it develops into low level conflict, to low level intensity warfare and eventually then finds itself confronted with insurgency warfare? Is the country ready? It is anybody’s guess.

Investment in strategic planning with scenario based approach conforms to the principle of anticipating future security tasks. The law abiding citizens should rise to the national occasion, as has been indicative of the efforts made in other provinces, to isolate these few criminal elements and defend our gains of freedom and we will emerge victorious. The critics towards the reflection on initial small clique of ethnical mobilisation is undisputed fact, and appear to be opportunistic and baseless, instead we should martial our intellectual resource and national strength to engage this act of criminality as a united nation.

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