Security situation in the country and related matters, with Minister and Deputy Minister


14 July 2021
Chairperson: Mr V Xaba (ANC) and Mr E Nchabaleng (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Joint Standing Committee on Defence, 14 July 2021

In a virtual meeting, and after several days of unrest and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the Committee met with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the Defence Ministry to receive an update on the security situation in the country.

The Chairperson opened the meeting by discussing the residual security threat in some parts of the country. Members said this discussion reflected their concerns. He identified three key risk factors:

  • the fact that amateur community initiatives were maintaining security in some areas where SANDF and the police were not present;
  • intelligence suggesting a threat of targeted attacks on critical state infrastructure; and
  • the limited number of SANDF personnel available to assist the police, given that most were rightly being used to protect national key points.

The Chairperson therefore recommended that government should consider deploying additional SANDF personnel.

The Minister provided a brief update on the situation, which she characterised as counter-revolutionary. The President had authorised an urgent initial deployment of 2 500 SANDF personnel in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, but a further deployment would in fact be sought. The night before, the President had proposed to increase the figure to 10 000 personnel, holding that cost should be no object. That morning, at a productive meeting between opposition party leaders and the President, the opposition parties had countered with a unanimous proposal to authorise the deployment of 75 000 personnel. As a compromise, the government would seek to authorise the deployment of 25 000 personnel.

The Minister reported that there were currently fewer than 1 000 SANDF personnel in Kwa-Zulu Natal, including about 800 in Durban. The SANDF’s initial focus had been on guarding national key points, thus releasing the police to enforce the law in communities. It had not occurred to the security cluster that malls could be possible targets, nor that the police should have been in regular contact with the private security companies who guarded the malls. For these reasons, the SANDF had not been present to prevent the subsequent looting and other unlawful behaviour at retail centres. The Minister described this as a learning experience for the security cluster.

Members welcomed the additional SANDF deployment, but asked about the quality of the intelligence received by the SANDF. They communicated their full support for the SANDF and the Minister, commending the SANDF’s conduct thus far and expressing hope about the potential for it to play a positive role in the resolution of the unrest.

Given the new developments and an imminent National Security Council meeting, the Committee elected not to hear the full briefing from the SANDF. It decided instead to meet again in two or three days for a comprehensive briefing.

Meeting report

Attendance and apologies

Chairperson Xaba said that the Committee had received apologies from the Secretary for Defence and from the Minister, who was attending a security meeting. He asked the Committee secretariat and the Defence delegation whether there were any further apologies.

The Committee secretary replied that she had not received any further apologies.

Mr Peter Nkabinde, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans, said that he was not aware of any other apologies. He was still checking which officials would be attending the meeting, and he would be able to confirm the composition of the Defence delegation in five or ten minutes.

Mr S Marais (DA) said that Mr M Shelembe (DA) had connection problems, which was probably why he was not yet present.

Chairperson Xaba said that he had seen Mr Shelembe in the meeting earlier, so he must have been disconnected.

Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) said that given the meeting’s importance, a “high-level” Defence delegation had to be present. Members had “big questions” that had to be answered urgently, so the Committee had to ensure that the meeting was attended by the right officials – those who had a mandate to comment and who could answer Members’ questions correctly. Who was going to represent the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), if not the Minister and the Secretary for Defence?

The Chairperson suggested that the Committee should delay the meeting for five minutes.

Ms M Modise (ANC) said that she had just seen a news report that the Minister would be briefing Parliament through the Committee, but this contradicted the apology that the Committee had received from the Minister. Could the Department clarify whether the Minister would be attending?

Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) said that it was very important for the Committee to ask the Minister certain questions which nobody else could answer, so it would pose a serious problem if she did not attend the meeting. Could the Committee find a way of engaging with the Minister?

Mr Marais said that he agreed with the other Members. The meeting had been arranged specifically to deal with the current unrest, and there had been many related developments and meetings that day. He certainly expected the Minister and high-level SANDF leadership to be present. He suggested that the meeting should be delayed not only for five minutes, but for at least half an hour, and that in the interim the Committee should get in touch with the Minister and SANDF leadership. The meeting could be reconvened in an hour or two hours, or even later. The Committee was there to serve, and it would serve at any time. In terms of the Defence Act and the Constitution, the Committee had certain legislative obligations and had to make recommendations when necessary. The current situation was unprecedented in democratic South Africa – it was “really, really bad.” It was crucial that the Committee should take fully informed decisions.

Mr Nkabinde said that he had just heard that the Chief of Joint Operations would be joining the meeting. The Minister, the Secretary for Defence, and the SANDF Chief would not be able to attend because they all belonged to the National Security Council (NSC), which was meeting at the same time.

Chairperson Xaba asked Mr Nkabinde to clarify.

Mr Nkabinde said that “NSC” stood for the “National Security Council.” The Minister, the Secretary for Defence and the SANDF Chief would be at the NSC meeting, and so would not be at the Committee’s meeting. However, the Chief of Joint Operations would attend the Committee’s meeting.

Mr Marais said that there was no doubt that the Committee had to postpone and reconvene later.

Chairperson Xaba said that the Committee should first confirm that it could not get the necessary information from the Chief of Joint Operations who, in his understanding, was responsible for coordinating the forces. He did not want the Committee to adjourn now if it could receive a helpful briefing from the available delegation. At the end of the briefing, if the Committee still needed more information, or to hear from the Minister, then it would adjourn and reconvene later. So the meeting would continue when the Chief of Joint Operations arrived. Thereafter, the Committee could decide on its way forward – whether it should adjourn until later that evening, or call another meeting on another day.

Chairperson Nchabeleng asked whether the Deputy Minister would be present. Was he also at the NSC meeting?

Chairperson Xaba asked Mr Nkabinde to find out. The country was busy, and the security cluster was especially busy. It had been busy that morning and that afternoon, and it might be busy until very late that night, so it was understandable that not everybody would be available at the same time. Everybody was in different meetings discussing the same matter, so in the end, everybody was contributing to the same objective.

Chairperson Nchabeleng agreed that there were various processes geared towards a shared goal. It seemed like some progress had been made over the last couple days. The situation was not the same as it had been yesterday.

He asked what information the Committee urgently required from the Minister. He knew that the Committee had a constitutional mandate to keep the executive in check, and in fact its mandate extended beyond that to encompass quite specific responsibilities. However, in this case, what were the Committee’s urgent questions? The Committee could use this time to establish that, so that it would have its questions prepared for its engagement with the Minister, whenever that occurred.

Chairperson Xaba said that the situation on the ground was developing very quickly, and was not abating.

He welcomed Mr Thabang Makwetla, Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, who had joined the meeting. He asked Mr Nkabinde for an update.

Mr Nkabinde said that the link to the meeting had been sent to the Chief of Joint Operations, and he was confirming with his office whether he had managed to connect.

Chairperson Xaba noted that Brig Gen Godfrey Thulare, SANDF, was in the meeting. He asked whether Brig Gen Thulare was with the Chief of Joint Operations.

Mr Nkabinde replied that he did not know, because he himself was in Johannesburg, not Pretoria.

Brig Gen Thulare said that he was at home, not with the Chief of Joint Operations.

After waiting for a short period, Chairperson Xaba said that he would try to call the Chief of Joint Operations to find out what the problem was.

Chairperson Xaba said that he was receiving many messages indicating that more and more Members were being affected by the unrest. One would have expected that the situation would be calming down now, in the third or fourth day of unrest.

Chairperson Nchabeleng agreed that the situation was bad.

Chairperson Xaba said that the situation was “terrible.”

Chairperson Nchabeleng said that he had thought that the situation was stabilising.

Chairperson Xaba replied that the situation was not stabilising, and in fact was deteriorating. People had begun to attack warehouses, which was obviously where most retailers stored their inventory. Once the stores and the warehouses were emptied, there were no goods left for anybody. There was currently no fuel, and he had had to drive many kilometres looking for petrol. His wife had left home at eight o’clock that morning to queue in front of a store. Just as she was reaching the door of the store, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the store had closed.

Lt Gen Siphiwe Sangweni, Chief of Joint Operations, SANDF, joined the meeting. He apologised for being late – he had been “running around,” and had also experienced problems with his internet connection. His principals were unavailable, as they were at an NSC meeting. He had also been expected to attend the NSC meeting, but had left and had rushed to the Committee meeting instead.

Chairperson Xaba said that it was understandable, given the “hectic” situation. He thought it was now appropriate to continue with the meeting.

Chairperson's opening remarks

Chairperson Xaba said that the current spate of “looting and criminality” in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng had brought about “an unprecedented state of insecurity.” The South African Police Service (SAPS) was evidently “overstretched” and unable to respond appropriately to security threats. The Committee therefore had to welcome the deployment of 2 000 SANDF personnel, as it helped the SAPS to gain control over some insecure areas. He commended the effectiveness of the deployments, and the discipline with which SANDF personnel had conducted themselves thus far. 

He said that, nonetheless, the situation remained insecure in many parts of KZN and Gauteng. There was still the threat of continued looting and violence – a significant short-term risk, with serious long-term economic effects. There were several factors that exacerbated the short-term security risk. Among them, firstly, were that in many areas where the SAPS and SANDF assistance had not yet arrived, security was being maintained only through dedicated community initiatives. Such community initiatives could come under pressure in the coming days – they were not trained, staffed, or equipped appropriately. Secondly, Mr Bheki Cele, Minister of Police, had said that the looting might be a “smokescreen,” and that there had been plans for other attacks on the state, with targets including hospitals and the provincial legislature. This intelligence suggested that there was still a critical threat to critical infrastructure. Thirdly, the SANDF deployment was being used to protect national key points. This was crucial and expected, but it did imply that few of the 2 000 deployed personnel would be available to assist the SAPS.

Chairperson Xaba said that additional SANDF deployments should therefore be considered, given the short-term security concerns and the ongoing violence and looting in some areas. Troop availability was critical. Deploying 2 000 personnel – or even 5 000 personnel – might not be sufficient to address short-term security needs. The SANDF needed more troops to be able to react appropriately to security needs. Insufficient troop availability would undermine the SANDF’s ability to facilitate a surge in forces when needed. While the deployment of the SANDF in a domestic policing function raised justifiable concern, the unprecedented insecurity required an “extraordinary” state response. As such, and within its mandate, the Committee should consider recommending an immediate and significant increase in the number of personnel deployed. The availability of forces should be increased to allow the SANDF to effectively support the SAPS operations, to respond better to looting and violence, and to secure national key points. The number of troops should also allow for a “reactionary capability” outside Gauteng and KZN, in case the SAPS identified such a need in other provinces.

He concluded that the Committee should urge the government to implement this recommendation immediately. It was a critical step in forestalling the need for a state of emergency in the short-term. Some advantages of a state of emergency – such as a curfew – were already available under the current state of disaster. The Committee condemned “in the strongest terms” the ongoing violence, looting and criminality in parts of South Africa. It would continue to provide ongoing oversight of the SANDF deployment under Operation Prosper.

Minister's opening remarks

Chairperson Xaba welcomed Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, who had joined the meeting. He said that he had not expected her to attend, because she had been double-booked. It was a “hectic” time, and many meetings were happening simultaneously.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula apologised for arriving late. She was in the car rushing to the NSC meeting, which had been moved an hour later than planned. Lt Gen Sangweni, the newly appointed Chief of Joint Operations, would give the briefing.

She said that that morning she had had the “golden opportunity” to attend a meeting between the President and the leaders of all political parties. The meeting had been “very, very useful,” and participants had shared a collaborative attitude, uniting as South Africans to find solutions to the current unrest. All parties’ proposals had aimed to promote progress and resolve the problems.

As Members would have observed, the initial SANDF deployment about two days ago had occurred without any written submissions to Parliament being made. That was because of the urgency of the situation. The Department had had to ensure immediately that it had some troops on the road while working out other matters. The initial letter, which she had signed on its way to the President, authorised a deployment of 2 500 soldiers between KZN and Gauteng. At an NSC meeting the night before, the President had said that he was unhappy with that number, and had said that the government should not worry about the cost, but should worry instead about the “rampant” looting and about the loss of lives. He had then proposed, last night, to escalate the number of SANDF personnel to 10 000.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said that before the documents had been finalised that morning, however, the opposition parties had made a unanimous proposal that the President should further escalate the number to about 75 000 personnel, including members of the reserve force. Such a mobilisation would be similar in scale to that effected at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown last year. In subsequent discussions with the President, it had been agreed that the deployment should strike a middle ground between the opposition parties’ proposal for 75 000 personnel and the President’s initial proposal for 10 000 personnel. The SANDF did not want to mobilise troops just for the sake of it. Any mobilisation had to be informed by a continuous assessment of the situation on the ground. As a compromise, it had been agreed to seek the deployment of 25 000 personnel. A request had just been submitted to authorise the deployment of 25 000 SANDF personnel.

The Minister said she knew that the situation in KwaZulu-Natal was “very bad,” and had been bad for the last two days. Right now, there were fewer than 1 000 SANDF personnel in KwaZulu-Natal, including about 800 in Durban. During the initial deployment, the focus had been on national key points – guarding areas such as Port Shepstone, that housed oil refineries, airports, and so on. The SANDF and SAPS had agreed that this was what SANDF needed to focus on. They had agreed that SANDF would do “guard duty” in order to release SAPS personnel to enforce the law and engage with people committing criminal acts. They had not anticipated the attacks on malls that had followed that same day. She did not intend to excuse the SANDF’s absence from the malls, but that was why they had not been there.

Although there had still been areas on fire in KZN that morning, there were now personnel deployed both in Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal. She was leaving for KwaZulu-Natal herself early the next morning. There would be personnel on the ground. Vehicles had also been rolled out and were on the way to KZN. The SANDF believed that there should be visibility not only of warm bodies, but also visibility of vehicles and of helicopter patrols. The SANDF would do its best, and she prayed that there would be no further loss of life.


Chairperson Xaba welcomed the developments as reported by Minister Mapisa-Nqakula. He was not sure whether Lt Gen Sangweni was prepared to brief the Committee with up-to-date and detailed information, but he thought that Lt Gen Sangweni should not brief the Committee in the current meeting. Instead, the Committee would schedule another meeting in the next two or three days. By then, the SANDF would have finalised its plan, and it could provide a comprehensive briefing, incorporating the latest developments. If other Members agreed, he would allow Members to comment and would then close the meeting, with the understanding that the Committee would reconvene on the matter later that week. That way, all attendees could leave the current meeting at seven o’clock, in time for the NSC meeting.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula asked whether she could be excused.

Chairperson Xaba replied that he would first allow Members to make any comments that they wanted Minister Mapisa-Nqakula to hear.

Mr Marais emphatically thanked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula for the update. He said that the Committee supported her fully. He was very encouraged that the SANDF deployment would be increased to 25 000 personnel, which was “absolutely adequate.” He was glad that the President had said not to worry about the cost of the deployment – that meant that everybody was “in this together.” He also thought that Chairperson Xaba’s opening remarks had reflected the sentiments of all Members, though the Committee had not formally met on the matter before the present meeting. The Committee thought that the current unrest was a threat to South African democracy and to the integrity of the country. It was appropriate that the SANDF should have a role.

He said that so far, it seemed that there had been a very positive result wherever the SANDF had been deployed, whether in Port Shepstone, Ballito or Pinetown. There was “an enormous show of strength and of solidarity with the plight of the people,” especially in KwaZulu-Natal and in Gauteng. He thought that that was what South Africans wanted. He had never in his life observed as much support for the SANDF as he had seen in the last couple days. He often sent information on to Minister Mapisa-Nqakula and to the Chairperson. He had not experienced such a display of solidarity since 1994 or 1995. This was a significant opportunity for the government and the SANDF to show the country the SANDF’s potential. It was also an opportunity to show the President and the National Treasury where funding should go. At the same time, it could secure the assets and lives of South Africans.

Mr Marais fully agreed with Chairperson Xaba’s opening remarks, and supported his suggestion that the Committee should reconvene in a day or two. At that time, everybody would be in a better position to provide the Committee with up-to-date information. He apologised to Minister Mapisa-Nqakula for “bothering” her so often and so much, but it was all in good spirit and in the best interests of the country.

Mr W Mafanya (EFF) said that the Committee had been looking forward to an in-depth discussion, but fully understood that Minister Mapisa-Nqakula had other commitments. He suggested that the meeting should be suspended now. If Members began to elaborate on the issues, it would become a proper meeting. Since the full meeting could not happen that night, the Committee should postpone its discussion.

Mr Ryder thanked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula for attending the meeting and thereby acknowledging the meeting’s importance, especially since he had complained earlier in the meeting about her absence. He agreed with Mr Marais that the SANDF’s presence had been well received. He asked the Minister to pass on to the SANDF structures that its efforts were appreciated.

He thought the biggest complaint had been that the SANDF deployment had been too late. Of course, this increased deployment was also a bit too late. It had been fairly obvious that such a deployment would be needed. Everybody had been aware that there was going to be “nonsense” that week – there had been information about it circulating on social media. Although the SANDF had done very well, he thought that it had not received very good intelligence about the reaction needed and the number of personnel needed. What was the quality of the information that the SANDF was receiving? It would be undesirable to have troops running from one area to another. He had heard that unrest in a given area died down as soon as the SANDF arrived there – but by then, it might be too late, and of course the unrest might flare up again once the SANDF left the area.

Mr Ryder also agreed with Chairperson Xaba that the Committee should postpone the full briefing. Of course, the Committee would also have to acknowledge or approve a written submission about the increased SANDF deployment.

Ms T Legwase (ANC) agreed with Chairperson Xaba’s proposal that the Committee should reconvene in two or three days. She said that Minister Mapisa-Nqakula, the SANDF and the frontline defences had the support of the Committee. In other times, people had wanted to “lose hope” in South Africa’s defence forces. Currently, there was a lot of lawlessness, which could not be allowed.

Chairperson Nchabeleng thanked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula for the update, and thanked Chairperson Xaba for summarising Members’ sentiments in his opening remarks. Chairperson Xaba clearly knew the Members well. He agreed with Mr Mafanya that the Committee should adjourn the meeting now rather than “spoil” it. However, the Committee supported Minister Mapisa-Nqakula, and was very proud of the SANDF troops.

Chairperson Xaba invited Deputy Minister Makwetla to comment, but he had nothing to add.

Chairperson Xaba said that the Committee had agreed to reconvene in the next two or three days, by which time he was sure that the Department’s plan would be ready. He invited Minister Mapisa-Nqakula to make closing remarks.

Minister's closing remarks

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula thanked Members for their support.

Responding to Mr Ryder’s question about the SANDF’s intelligence, she said she thought that SANDF did have intelligence, but that the intelligence had come in too late. At the beginning of the unrest, one would read on social media about the targets of the next attacks. After the malls had started burning and the looting had begun, the SANDF had seen on social media a list of Gauteng roads that would be targeted and closed – some Members might remember seeing the post. In retrospect, 80% or 90% of the information on that list had been accurate. However, the SANDF had not received intelligence alerting it that malls were going to become a target for looting and other unlawful behaviour. The SANDF had not known that that was going to happen and, in her understanding, neither had the SAPS.

Unfortunately for the SANDF, its responsibility in an internal deployment was to support the police. so it moved into areas that had been identified by the police. In a meeting, the SANDF and SAPS had decided that the SANDF should -- at least at first -- focus on “guard duty” at key institutions and national key points. This would release the SAPS to do the law enforcement work that it was supposed to do. The SANDF had then heard about the trend of attacks at malls. She knew that, at that time, people had begun calling for the SANDF and asking where SANDF was. The SANDF had been there, but it had been located in other areas. She did not want to say that SANDF should not have chosen to focus on those other areas. It had been guided by the idea that if there was going to be “trouble” in the country, it should start by protecting security by protecting the national key points.

It had “never occurred” to SANDF that it should move into areas such as malls. In particular, at malls, there were always contracts between the businesses and private security companies. There were private security companies at every mall. The security cluster had learnt through this experience that it was important for the SAPS to keep in regular contact with the private security companies which were deployed at the malls. Of course, the private security companies were the first to become aware when attacks begun. Despite all its structures, the security cluster had missed this point about interaction between the SAPS and private security. Such interactions had only begun now. The experience had been “an eye-opener” for the security cluster, and there had been “a learning curve.” She hesitated to say that the security cluster had nearly been “caught with their pants down.”

Mr Marais joked that this was true only figuratively.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said that it was clearly emerging that everybody was vowing that such unrest should never happen, could not continue, and had to be stopped. She recognised the “seeds of counterrevolution” and an attempt to undermine a democratic state, and the state had to “assert its authority.”

Chairperson's closing remarks

Chairperson Xaba said that the country was facing an unprecedented situation. People had to stand together, without attempting to apportion blame. They had to acknowledge the situation they were faced with and put their heads together to try to resolve it.

The Committee would meet again in the next few days – he would communicate the exact date and time.

He thanked Minister Mapisa-Nqakula and the SANDF delegates for their attendance. He knew that Lt Gen Sangweni had been prepared to brief the Committee, but now that there was new information the Committee would prefer to receive an update in two or three days.

The meeting was adjourned. 


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