President Cyril Ramaphosa says the violence experienced in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng – characterised by looting, property destruction and loss of life – was an attempted insurrection that failed to gain popular support.
“It has failed because of the efforts of our security forces, and it has failed because South Africans have rejected it and have stood up in defence of our hard-won democracy,” President Ramaphosa said.
Addressing the nation on the security situation in the country on Friday evening, the President said it is now clear that the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on democracy.
“The constitutional order of our country is under threat. The current instability and ongoing incitement to violence constitutes a direct contravention of the Constitution and the rule of law.
“These actions are intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken – or even dislodge – the democratic State.
“Using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection. They have sought to exploit the social and economic conditions under which many South Africans live – conditions that have worsened since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic – and to provoke ordinary citizens and criminal networks to engage in opportunistic acts of looting,” President Ramaphosa said.
The President’s address follows his visit earlier in the day to KwaMashu, Springfield, Mobeni and Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal to assess the impact of public violence and looting.
The President said during his walk through the streets of eThekwini, he saw people cleaning up the streets, rebuilding their lives, standing together united in their diversity – young and old, men and women, black and white.
“They were grateful for the support of the security forces and made it clear to me that they stand united and will work with government to restore stability,” President Ramaphosa said.
Putting out fires
President Ramaphosa warned that government will spare no effort in bringing to justice the individuals responsible for planning the violence.
He said specialised units of law enforcement agencies are working around the clock to locate and apprehend those responsible for planning and coordinating this violence.
“We will extinguish the fires that are raging, and stamp out every last ember. We will identify and act against those who lit the flame, and those who spread it. We will find those who instigated this violence.
“They will be held accountable for their deeds. We will not allow anyone to destabilise our country and get away with it. We will not allow any person or any group to challenge the authority of our democratically elected government,” the President warned.
Over 200 people lose their lives
The President said since the outbreak of violence, at least 212 people have lost their lives, including 180 in KwaZulu-Natal and 32 in Gauteng.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) has also recorded over 118 incidents of public violence, arson, looting and other unrest-related instances. These incidents were concentrated in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
“Since the height of the unrest on Monday and Tuesday, there has been a sharp decline in the number of incidents and calm has returned to most of these areas. Over 2 550 people have been arrested in connection with the unrest, and special arrangements are being put in place to ensure that these cases are prioritised.”
Damage to property
According to preliminary reports compiled by NATJOINTS, extensive damage has been caused to 161 malls and shopping centres, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor outlets and distributors.
This does not include the damage caused to roads and other infrastructure. In an earlier briefing on Friday, Acting Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, said the South African National Roads Agency was already repairing the damaged part of the highway in Mooi River and has removed barriers on the stretch of the N3.
Police are investigating 131 cases of murder and have opened inquest dockets in respect of 81 deaths.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have lost their lives to this senseless violence. This is a pain that no family and no community should have to endure,” President Ramaphosa said.
The President said once the crisis has passed, it is imperative that government undertake a thorough and critical review of preparedness and response, with a view to improve outcomes.
For now, the President said, the priority is to stabilise the country, secure essential supplies and infrastructure, provide relief and support recovery and rebuilding, and to encourage the active and peaceful efforts of citizens in defence of lives, livelihoods and democracy.
“To stabilise the country, we have massively increased the numbers of law enforcement and security personnel on the ground in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. I have authorised the deployment of 25 000 members of the South African National Defence Force to support the work of the police.
“Of these, 10 000 are now on the ground, with the remaining forces arriving in their respective areas of deployment over the course of the weekend.”
State of emergency
The President reiterated that while calls for the declaration of a state of emergency to contain violence and destruction are understandable, such declaration would only be made when all other means of stabilising the situation have proved inadequate.
“A state of emergency would allow a drastic limitation of the basic rights contained in our Constitution, which no responsible government would want to do unless it was absolutely necessary.
“For now, it is our firm view that the deployment of our security forces, working together with communities and social partners across the country, will be able to restore order and prevent further violence.”
The President said, however, that no one should take the law into their own hands.
“We must guard against vigilantism and anything that could inflame tensions further.
“We call on all South Africans to encourage calm and restraint, to desist from sharing false information, and to report any incidents of violence to the police immediately.”