At a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed by the Department of Police and the South African Police Services (the SAPS) on the recent civil unrest in the country. The Committee was also briefed by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government on the recent unrest in the Province.
The Committee heard that the country was in turmoil after the prison sentence of the former President of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma, was effected. Protests started in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal where the main roads where forcefully blocked and a phase of riots, looting, vandalism and the torching of areas of the Province occurred. The Committee heard further that the unrest then spread in the form of isolated incidents in the Provinces of the North-West, Mpumalanga, and the Northern Cape.
The Committee was informed by the SAPS that it had diligently implemented measures to manage and contain the spread of COVID-19 during the period of civil unrest. This included the screening and testing of members, the quarantining and self-isolation of members, members being on leave due to COVID-19 symptoms, and the closure of certain offices and police stations of the SAPS. Members were concerned and asked: ‘Was it not time to acknowledge that law enforcement was clearly under-resourced and had a budget problem’? They expressed further concern that the law enforcement agencies did not have the capacity to handle situations like civil unrest if it was more widespread than the recent unrest in July 2021. Members asked ‘What is the level of cooperation between the Investigation Task Team and the NPA’? as it was alarming that so much ammunition was stolen. ‘What could have been done differently in this regard and what measures have been put in place to militate against such risks’? The Committee asked about punishment for crimes committed in this period ‘What are the underlying challenges in ensuring that people are arrested in relation to the crimes committed during the recent civil unrest and looting and how will these challenges be addressed? And further for more details on the firearms that were seized from the security companies and more importantly ‘what were the main strengths and weaknesses identified in terms of public order policing during the protest’?
The Committee was briefed by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government on the civil unrest in the province. Members were disappointed to hear about the threats made to economic key points and interests in the Province such as the Port of Durban, the Port of Richards Bay, King Shaka International Airport, the offices of the South African Broadcasting Commission (the SABC), water and electricity infrastructure, and fuel depots. Vigilante groups mushroomed in various areas and brutal attacks and massacres occurred. The damage to the province’s infrastructure included 89 malls and shopping centres, one hospital, 45 warehouses, 22 factories, eight banks, 66 ATMs, 89 liquor outlets, eight liquor distributors, and 37 delivery trucks. The challenges outlined included the concerning levels of racial tension. Having reviewed the responses and the current risk profile, the JCPS-cluster has resolved that safety and security measures and interventions to stabilise the province are continued. Members asked for more clarity on the children that have died during the unrest or insurrection regarding their causes of death; and ‘What measures need to be undertaken to improve and strengthen the JCPS-cluster as a whole in light of the lessons learned in the combatting of the recent civil unrest’?
In answer to the question on children dying in this period, the Deputy National Commissioner of Police for Policing said detectives were uncertain as to what the causes of death were, however ‘when people were rushing in for looting, there was a lot of people that died in a stampede and were trampled upon’.
The Minister of Police emphasised the seriousness of the recent civil unrest and the looting of goods. He noted that ‘there is an impaired response from the SAPS that is caused by the reduced proportionality between police officers and the South African population. This is because of the limited recruitment of police officers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and significant budget cuts’.
The Committee welcomed the briefings made but found it very concerning that police officers had been found to be involved in the unrest and also the other illegal activities. The Committee will be undertaking a joint oversight visit with the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. This meeting will kick-start the Committee’s oversight work. The Committee is quite concerned about the unrest in the KwaZulu-Natal province where 160 people have lost their lives. Members’ concerns are also amplified by the slow responses from the law enforcement agencies.
Opening Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson convened the virtual meeting and welcomed Members and the delegations from the Department of Police, the South African Police Services (the SAPS), and the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government. The purpose of the meeting was for the Committee to be briefed by the Department of Police and the SAPS on the recent civil unrest in the country. Another item on the agenda was for the Committee to be briefed by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government on the recent unrest in the province.
The Chairperson noted that the meeting is for the Committee to understand the extent of the recent civil unrest in the country and the associated looting and damage to property. The Committee will be undertaking a joint oversight visit with the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in this regard. This meeting will kick-start the Committee’s oversight work. The Committee is quite concerned about the unrest in the KwaZulu-Natal Province where 160 people have lost their lives. Members’ concerns are also amplified by the fact that the responses from the law enforcement agencies have been slow.
The delegation from the Department of Police consisted of General Bheki Cele ( Minister of Police), Mr Cassel Mathale (Deputy Minister of Police), Gen Khehla Sitole (National Commissioner of Police), Lt-Gen Sehlahle Masemola (Deputy National Commissioner of Police: Policing), and Lt. Gen. Godfrey Lebeya ( National Head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (the DPCI)). Other officials in attendance from the SAPS included Maj-Gen Johannes Riet (Divisional Commissioner: Supply-Chain), Maj-Gen Samson Shitlabane (Divisional Commissioner: Protection & Security Services), Lt-Gen Francinah Vuma (Divisional Commissioner: Financial Management & Administration), Lt-Gen Lineo Ntshiea (Divisional Commissioner: Human Resources Management), Maj-Gen Mathapelo Peters (Head: Corporate Communication & Liaison), and Maj-General Leon Rabie (Head: Strategic Management).
The delegation from the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government included Lt-Gen Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi (Provincial Commissioner: KwaZulu-Natal), and Mr Sbusiso Gumbi (Head of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Department of Community Safety and Transport). Ms Patricia Whittle (Parliamentary Researcher) and Dr Irvin Kinnes (the Content Advisor to the Portfolio Committee on Police) were also in attendance.
Briefing by the Department of Police on the civil unrest and COVID-19 measures
The first item on the agenda was for the Committee to be briefed by the Department of Police and the SAPS on the recent civil unrest in the country, and the measures implemented to attempt to militate against the COVID-19 pandemic within the Department of Police. Gen Khehla Sitole, the National Commissioner of Police, presented the briefing to the Committee on the strategy of the Minister of Police.
Broad overview of the recent civil unrest:
After the prison sentence of the former President of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma was effected, the protests started in the province of KwaZulu-Natal where main roads where forcefully blocked. This was the emerging phase of the riots and looting. The critical phase ensued from 11 to 16 July when shops were looted, vandalised, and torched in areas of the province. The unrest then spread in the form of isolated incidents reported in the Provinces of the North-West, Mpumalanga, and the Northern Cape.
The situation was restored by 19 July 2021. The modus operandi of the unrest involved the extensive use of social media platforms, the blocking of roads with the burning of tyres, the targeting of trucks to block the road, the targeting of malls and shopping centres with large-scale looting and destruction, the targeting of warehouses, ongoing threats to critical infrastructure, racial murders and violence, and the fostering of racial tension. The provincial hotspots included various districts in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, and key security forces where subsequently deployed these areas.
After the country experienced a week of unrest, destruction, looting, insurrection, and the loss of life, there is now a level of more stability as a whole. The total fatalities amounted to 360 deaths. There was extensive damage to 161 malls and shopping centres, 11 warehouses, eight factories, and 161 liquor outlets and distributors. There was looting and damage at over 200 shopping centres, looting of 300 shops, damages to 1 400 ATMs, and fire damage to 100 malls. In addition, 300 banks and post offices have been vandalised, 113 communication infrastructures were significantly damaged, and 1 119 retail stores were damaged. The estimated impact on the country’s GDP is R 50 billion as a result of the civil unrest.
Incidents in Phoenix and surrounding areas
From 12 July, the community in the Phoenix area set up blockades and patrolled the streets of the areas. The problem arose when community members exceeded their powers and racially-profiled the people that were allowed into their suburbs amounting to discrimination and a restriction of movement. This sparked racial tensions in the area. Since then, several other bodies were discovered at the Phoenix mortuary, allegedly killed at the road blockades after an incident where four males sustained gunshot wounds when a vehicle was set alight. The victims of Phoenix crimes were mostly Africans from Bhambayi, Zwelitsha, and Amaoti. In this regard 36 murders were recorded along with 29 arson cases, 59 attempted murder cases, and 55 cases of malicious damage to property. By 11 August, 36 arrests were affected. Regarding the confiscations and recoveries of looted items, the following was recovered: 166 litres of liquor, 152 firearms, 112 illegal firearms, seven motor vehicles, 493 rounds of ammunition, 158 items of building material, five bicycles, 4 000 cigarettes, 29 computers, 120 electronic items, 27 television sets, seven microwave ovens, and 14 fridges.
It was reported that an Investigation Task Team has been established to oversee the investigations in the Phoenix and surrounding areas with 31 detectives from the National and Provincial Offices being dispatched to the KwaZulu-Natal Province to investigate, arrest and charge suspects and to attend court proceedings. The Investigation Task Team is led by the Deputy Provincial Commissioner for Detective Services. The Minister of Police visited the area on three occasions and interventions were put in place to include a dedicated investigation capacity, and a Committee comprising of different communities to facilitate reconciliation. The Minister of Defence and the Minister of Military Veterans also visited the area and engaged with the communities. In addition, the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal visited the station and hotspot areas, and the MEC for Education visited the areas to establish the state of readiness of schools to reopen in Phoenix. Religious leaders intervened with prayer and motivational peace talks. The Provincial Department of Community Safety, Transport, and Liaison are in continuous communication with the management of the Phoenix’s police station. In addition, various capabilities of the SAPS were deployed on a 24-hour basis in Bhambayi, Zwelitsha, Amaoti, Phoenix, and Verulam. This was complemented by deployments of the South African National Defence Force (the SANDF) and the Metro Police Department. The clean-up of debris on the roads was conducted by the municipality and the area has been stabilised.
Impact of the operations on the SAPS
It was reported that a two-shift system was implemented in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to maximise deployments. This was later extended to the provinces of Mpumalanga, the North-West, the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, and the Free State. Routine crime prevention, crime combatting, and crime investigation operations were disruption in police stations located in the affected areas, but frontline service delivery from all police stations has been maintained. The majority of the members of the SAPS within national support capabilities were also deployed, which may have inhibited internal support processes for the duration of the mobilisation.
The investigation of unrest-related criminal cases has significantly increased the workload of the capability of the Detective Services but has also increased the case load of the National Prosecuting Authority (the NPA), the courts, and the number of remand detainees. A Special Investigation Team comprising of detectives from the National Offices of the SAPS were deployed to KwaZulu-Natal, and the SANDF-deployment was activated on 12 July 2021. The National and Provincial Divisions were activated to capacitate members on the ground on 13 July 2021. Reservists were called-up on 15 July 2021.
The province of KwaZulu-Natal was divided into three zones to ensure a manageable deployment strategy. The eThekwini and Ugu districts encountered wide-spread looting and unrest. Regarding physical resources, it was reported that two helicopters were deployed, 11 armoured fleets, and two water cannons. The water cannons were used on six occasions during the period between 09 and 14 July 2021. A total of 41 malls and 33 other infrastructures were successfully defended as a result of the actions of the SAPS. Regarding pyrotechnics and ammunition used by the SAPS, it was reported that 67 416 rubber rounds were used in KwaZulu-Natal along with 2 325 rounds of CS-gas, and 1 240 stun grenades. In Gauteng, there was an average daily deployment of 261. In this regard, two helicopters were deployed along with 21 armoured fleets and two water cannons. A total of 84 malls and 10 other infrastructures were successfully defended as a result of the actions of the SAPS. Regarding pyrotechnics and ammunition used by the SAPS, it was reported that 16 971 rubber rounds were used in Gauteng along with 869 rounds of CS-gas, and 312 stun grenades.
Regarding the provincial deployments, it was reported that the SAPS intervened in the following situations:
A situation in the Free State where a group barricaded access roads at Tumahole Township with burning tyres and rocks while demanding the release of the former President of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma. The situation was brought under control by the SAPS. Another incident of attempted looting ensued, and the situation was brought under control. A tuckshop was looted in Tumahole Township, and one suspect was arrested with the looted stock for the possession of suspected stolen property and the situation was under control. In addition, there were increased deployments in all major towns in the Free State Province to curb looting. In the Eastern Cape, police were deployed together with the business community and the Community Policing Forum in the protection of strategic business areas through loud-hailing and the distribution of no-looting pamphlets. Roadblocks were erected within the province and around it borders. In the Western Cape, a group of youths attempted to loot the Promenade Mall in Mitchells Plain, but the attempt was foiled by the SAPS as they were all arrested and charged with robbery. In the province of Mpumalanga, the SAPS were deployed at strategic key points, complemented by the deployments of the SANDF. In the Northern Cape, there were sporadic incidents of public violence, business burglary, and attempted business burglary took place in Galeshewe and Roodepan, and the SAPS was called into intervene and 14 arrests were made. The number of SAPS members deployed in the area was increased and the situation was stabilised. In the North-West, a group of youths gathered at a mall in Mahikeng. They were confronted by a group of adults and SAPS members who warned them not to loot, and they were dispersed. The deployments were increased in the province and the situation remained normal. In Limpopo, a group of youths gathered in a specific house in Dennilton and were dispersed by the SAPS. Later a truck and bakkie were found burning on the road towards Siyabuswa. Deployments were increased at strategic business areas and the situation remained calm.
The disposal of recovered looted goods, public order policing, and stolen ammunition
Seized looted and other items are stored in 13 of the stores of the SAPS and other storage facilities. Evidence management prescripts must apply for management and control. The seized goods that are needed as evidence in criminal proceedings must be stored until the cases are finalised and can then be disposed of. There are specific provisions to deal with the perishable items. Products expired, damaged, or no longer safe for use must be destroyed. The SAPS made recommendations that will allow for goods (that have been forfeited to the state or are not needed for criminal proceedings) to be donated through an expedited procedure that will involve the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Department of Social Development. The four National Public Order Police Reserve Units (the NPOP) were mobilised to support the public order policing units (the POP) in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. All other provinces mobilised their POP units. On 09 July 2021, a container with 1.2 million rounds of various calibres of ammunition and 800 000 primers arrived at the Durban Harbour. The container was on route to the South African Revenue Services’ (the SARS) Custom Depot for inspection but was looted during the period of unrest and the contents were removed. A total of nine arrests have been made to date and 42 420 rounds of ammunition and 200 000 primers have been recovered.
Current status of cases, investigations, and arrests by the SAPS
A total of 8 090 dockets were registered relating to the unrest, and 4 894 suspects have been arrested. The majority of these cases originated from the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces. Out of the 8 090 dockets, 4 414 are still under investigation while 2 611 dockets have been sent to the court and 20 dockets were sent for decision by the NPA. The types of crime included murder (213 reported cases and 23 arrests), attempted murder (145 reported cases and 27 arrests), arson (175 reported cases and 34 arrests), malicious damage to property (836 reported cases and 130 arrests), possession of stolen property (1 895 reported cases and 2 668 arrests), damage to infrastructure (12 reported cases and 32 arrests), culpable homicide (two reported cases and no arrests), and other (4 721 reported cases and 1 980 arrests). In addition, 91 inquests were reported.
On 19 July 2021, the DPCI the Division for Crime Intelligence, and the Division for Detective and Forensic Services held a joint meeting relating to the public violence and civil unrest in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces. These three environments were joined by representatives from the NPA. As a result of the disruptive actions, various persons of interest were identified for their criminal involvement in allegedly inciting the protests and public violence. From a total of the 23 investigations, four matters have been placed on the court roll with seven dockets under investigation.
Challenges and lessons learned
The magnitude of the looting and the destruction of property occurred simultaneously in various places. The collapse of the four-shift system into a two-shift system was implemented to increase the number of members deployed on the ground. This approach is not sustainable as it is costly and tiring for members. Crowd management requires numbers for efficient policing. The reality of the situation is there are insufficient numbers of POP units and members. The SAPS will conduct a thorough analysis to implement recommendations regarding the way forward for the improvement of the situation.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to the unrest
This included the screening and testing of members, the quarantining and self-isolation of members, members being on leave due to COVID-19 symptoms, the hospitalisation of members, and the closure of certain offices and police stations of the SAPS. These factors have affected the number of members available for operational deployment. The National Launch of the SAPS Vaccination Roll-Out was initiated on 5 July 2021 and Provincial Launches commenced on 8 July 2021. The Vaccination Roll-Out was disrupted in KwaZulu-Natal because of the civil unrest. All members of the SAPS were included in the Vaccination Roll-Out, and it was terminated on 11 August 2021. By 10 August 2021, 98 451 members out of 181 686 (54%) of the SAPS’ staff have been vaccinated across the country.
Briefing by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government on the civil unrest in the province
The second item on the agenda was for the Committee to be briefed by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government on the recent unrest in the province. Lt-Gen Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, the Provincial Commissioner for the KwaZulu-Natal province, presented the briefing to Members.
The extent and impact of the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal
Between 09 and 15 July 2021, the KwaZulu-Natal province experienced violent public protests which had targeted strategic transport routes, motorists, ordinary residents in their homes, businesses, including strategic warehouses and factories, public transport, and the road freight industry. Protests began with the targeting of roads and tolls and then evolved into looting and targeting of trucks, malls, pharmacies, warehouses, factories, government facilities and farms. Protests were well coordinated, simultaneous and sporadic, which made it difficult to contain. Threats made to economic key points and interests in the province, such as the Port of Durban, the Port of Richards Bay, King Shaka International Airport, the offices of the South African Broadcasting Commission (the SABC), water and electricity infrastructure, and fuel depots. Criminal and opportunistic elements capitalised on the situation. There was also a disruption in the private security services provision due to lack of public transport and intimidation. Social media and media coverage of the carnage played a role in creating widespread panic in communities. Vigilante groups mushroomed in various areas and brutal attacks and massacres occurred. The damage to the Province’s infrastructure included 89 malls and shopping centres, one hospital, 45 warehouses, 22 factories, eight banks, 66 ATMs, 89 liquor outlets, eight liquor distributors, and 37 delivery trucks.
The unrest had a significant impact on services:
- In terms of health care, a number of hospitals, Community Health Centres and clinics were operating on skeletal staff with many nurses, doctors, allied health workers and support staff, including general staff workers, unable to report for work. In this regard, seven healthcare facilities, three ambulances, and one district office were either looted or vandalised in the areas of eThekwini, Ugu, Umgungundlovu, Harry Gwala and Umkhanyakude.
- In terms of schools, it was noted that all provincial districts reported incidents, and the highest number of schools affected were reported at Umlazi (37 schools), Pinetown (27 schools), and Ugu (25 schools). The total number of school infrastructure affected amounts to 139 schools, but the numbers increase as the districts continue to report. Generally, the looting was targeting schools with food scheme programmes and computer facilities.
- Regarding social services, it was reported that eight post offices that were responsible for the payments of social grants were burned, and 25 post offices were looted and vandalised. All cash payments that were to take place as of 12 July were halted to date as cash could not be transported via CIT on the road to the cash pay points. Other damages reported include that the KwaMashu Local Office was burnt to ashes after being looted, that the Phungashe and Vulamehlo offices were looted, and that 56 out of the 81 South African Social Security Agency (the SASSA) offices were closed.
- Regarding the impact on the local government sector, it was reported that in the Ugu District a large group of protesters entered the Fleet Offices and the Farmers Market and started looting and burning municipal property, including two excavators, two graders, 12 water tanks, 18 service delivery vans, one open bin truck, one bus, one small vehicle, all offices, all storage garages, and guard houses. In the Mtubatuba Municipality, the Disaster Management Emergency Service Office was vandalised and burned. In some areas, service delivery was severely affected particularly in terms of access to municipal services. The Community Service Centres were also affected, including those in the areas of Mpungose (Traditional Administrative Centre), CeleNhlangwini (Traditional Administrative Centre), Dududu, Bhamshela and Impendle.
- The service delivery relating to water services was affected as municipal workers and plant operators could not reach some sites, and the water tanks were halted to protect assets. In the area of Umhlathuze, the Esikhaleni Water treatment plant was forcefully shut down. In the area of eThekwini, water outages were experienced in Chatsworth, Shallcross, and Klaarwater due to a major leak on the rising main. The repairs were completed on 23 July.
There were 13 incidents at courts during the period of civil unrest which was outlined to the Committee (see the attached presentation). It was reported that there were no serious incidents or damage to property except for two guards who had been assaulted but have since recovered.
Overview and update on the state of operations within the province
The KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Commissioner of Police activated the ProvJOINTS; an integrated operational plan was developed in order to respond to the identified threats and risks with a focus on maintaining visibility and police presence in key areas in order to respond appropriately and swiftly. A Joint Operational Command Centre to manage operations was also activated. The province has 33 national key points that had to be protected by law enforcement. For the period of the unrest, a total of 1 239 roadblocks were set up, 105 977 vehicles were stopped and searched, and 224 379 people were searched. In addition, 10 692 premises were searched, and 337 incidents were attended to by the provincial POP unit.
The shift system was changed to 24/7 shift system from the 10 to 31 July 2021.Officers were deployed at strategic locations on the N2/N3 and monitoring the volatile areas and diversion of traffic away from the troubled spots. From 01 August 2021, the normal two shift system up to 22:00 has been resumed, but with standby capacity available at all stations.
Between the period of 09 July and 12 August, 7 436 cases were reported consisting out of 177 arson cases, 755 cases of malicious damage to property, 124 cases of attempted murder, 88 inquests, 191 cases of murders, and 14 cases of culpable homicide. In addition, during this period the following items were confiscated: 37 306 litres of liquor, 366 firearms, 450 motor vehicles, 44 538 rounds of ammunition, 3 226 items of building material, 11 595 clothing items, 30 800 cigarettes, 262kg of copper cable, 511 dangerous weapons, 16 explosives, 6 311 electronic items, 1 575kg of meat, 470 bicycles, 307 washing machines, 419 televisions, 223 microwaves, 1 227 fridges, 329 stoves, 922 cell phones, and 464 freezers.
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services has announced that cases that relate to people in possession of stolen goods or people who participated in looting may result in restorative justice or alternative measures. These include an admission of guilt, diversion and plea agreements as a means of finalising it. The Minister has issued directions to manage cases emanating from the public violence and public disorder. In collaboration with the SAPS, emerging cases will be divided into four categories which include actual looters and persons participating in stealing from shops and outlets, persons found in possession of stolen property, groups and individuals stealing property in big quantities, organised or planned action and enticement or inciting public violence. Experienced prosecutors have been assigned from the Organised Crime and Priority Crime Litigation Unit to deal with more complicated and serious matters. A database of cases is kept and reported on to the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (the NDPP) on a daily basis.
Challenges and lesson learnt:
The challenges outlined included the concerning levels of racial tension notably at the Phoenix, the Chatsworth, the Verulam, the Inanda, and the Msunduzi Local Municipalities in the Northern Suburbs in particular. Racial tensions in the Phoenix Local Municipality spilling over into Durban Solid Waste (DSW), construction industry at Inanda (RDP development underway in the Matabetulu area had threats directed to some employees of company) and health services (community of Inanda calling for Indian staff members to be removed from local Clinics, including Newtown A). The potential for conflict specifically in the Phoenix area remains high. There is a growing convergence of pressure groups demanding that justice should prevail – various protest marches in the past weeks. There have been several public statements or utterances which have the potential to incite violence have been reported, including by community leaders and politicians. Government leaders and political parties have been quick to condemn such statements, and this must be strengthened. A potential for growing protests directed at courts has been noted and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development needs to ensure that adequate security measures and engagement with the SAPS are implemented to ensure swift response when needed.
Planning processes by the JCPS-cluster never contemplated coordinated and widespread public violence aimed at disabling or crippling critical infrastructure, arterial routes, goods and services from internal sources and it lacked the capacity to fully respond to attacks and looting. It is important to assess the contingency planning processes of the JCPS-cluster as well as its capacity, including its reserve strength, and protocols. Communities acted swiftly to protect their homes and businesses, however, in a number of instances these efforts were marred by racially biased and vigilante actions, which in turn led to racial tensions and the commission of serious crimes. It is important to evaluate the community safety structures activation and communication protocols to ensure that community policing is always done within the parameters of the law.
There is a perception among all communities that the government was largely ‘absent’ in the first few days of the unrest and that the government only emerged after the fact. This situation was further fuelled by fake news and social media. This highlighted the need to strengthen government communication.
Having reviewed the responses and the current risk profile, the JCPS-cluster has resolved that safety and security measures and interventions to stabilise the province are continued, including law enforcement presence in volatile areas; community engagement to stabilise areas and racial tensions are continued; equitable distribution of law enforcement operations take place, including those targeting stolen goods, illegal firearms and illegal road blocks; and an assessment of the capacity of law enforcement agencies to adequately respond to emerging threats against the people of KwaZulu-Natal is undertaken, which has commenced.
The Chairperson thanked the delegations for the briefings made to Members. She appreciated the insights provided to the Committee on the recent civil unrest in the country and the progress made by the SAPS.
Mr G Michalakis (DA, Free State) noted that the protests started on 07 July 2021, and the actual looting started four days later. Members have seen the footage of those first days of the looting when the police officers were under-resourced in terms of human resources. There were too few police vehicles and too few officials on the ground before the mass mobilisation. He asked for clarity on the nature of the intelligence received during those four days that was inadequate as the law enforcement agencies were unprepared for the extent of the looting. The recent civil unrest indicates a lack of police resources. Is it not time to acknowledge that law enforcement is clearly under-resourced and has a budget problem? It is clear that not enough resources are reaching the police stations. Resources need to be assigned where it is needed the most. There is also an indication that the public order policing numbers have declined significantly by 50%, and that the deployment was mostly confined to two provinces. He expressed concern that the law enforcement agencies do not have the capacity to handle situations like civil unrest if it was more widespread than the recent unrest in July 2021. Regarding the documents, he noted that the number under investigation and the number for those dockets at court do not tally up to the total number of dockets that were opened. He asked for an indication of what happened to the rest of the dockets and whether some of those dockets have been finalised. He noted that it was indicated that a thorough analysis would be done and commented that there is no time to conduct such an analysis. He asked for a timeframe of when the police envisage that this analysis would be done to prepare the Committee for the eventuality of such civil unrest and looting occurring again. He referred to the suspects who escaped from police custody at the Pietermaritzburg High Court. This shows the under-resourcing and unpreparedness for incidents like civil unrest. This must indicate some deeper problems underlying in the KwaZulu-Natal province regarding policing. People want to see that those responsible who were supposed to provide that intelligence are held accountable regarding the billions of Rands that have been lost in relation to the recent civil unrest and the widespread looting.
Ms N Nkosi (ANC, Mpumalanga) thanked the delegations for the briefings made. She asked for more information on the challenges encountered by the Investigation Task Team in the area of the Phoenix municipality and district. ‘What is the level of cooperation between the Investigation Task Team and the NPA’? She commented that it was alarming that so much ammunition was stolen. ‘What could have been done differently in this regard and what measures have been put in place to militate against such risks’? ‘What are the underlying challenges in ensuring that people are arrested in relation to the crimes committed during the recent civil unrest and looting and how will these challenges be addressed?
Ms M Bartlett (ANC, Northern Cape) appreciated the briefings presented to the Committee. ‘What were the main strengths and weaknesses identified in terms of public order policing during the protest’? She asked for more detail to be provided on the manner in which these confiscations and recoveries were undertaken. ‘How were the locations identified and what were some of the challenges encountered’? She asked for more details on the firearms that were seized from the security companies.
Mr E Mthethwa (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) referred to the recovery of the looted goods. He asked the Minister of Police on how the public can trust the police officers that are recovering the looted goods to do their jobs fairly and to not profit from what they have taken. ‘How are police officers held accountable’? He asked that the Committee be provided with a detailed report on the arrests of the instigators of the civil unrest. ‘How many police officers were arrested for involvement in the looting’?
Mr I Sileku (DA, Western Cape) asked for more clarity on the children that have died during the unrest or insurrection and regarding their causes of death. ‘How long does it take law enforcement to be on the scene with cases of civil unrest as the country has recently experienced’? Law enforcement agencies and the SAPS should have responded faster which could have ensured that less property was damaged, or lives lost. If it is agreed that the Department of Police was late on the scene and dropped the ball, he asked who will be taking accountability for the events. ‘Is there someone within the police department who is willing to stand up and say that they have dropped the ball in this context’?
Ms C Visser (DA, North-West) stated that the incidents of civil unrest is something that affects the integrity and respect for the SAPS which has now been damaged in the eyes of the public due to the ongoing involvement of criminal activities that have been widely reported in the media. The recent failures of law enforcement in response to the unrest to restore law and order damage the trust of citizens in the SAPS and in its ability to protect the public and their property. The SAPS need to go back to the drawing board to ensure that incidents like these do not happen again and that there is a determent aspect of the SAPS’ response.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their contributions. She concurred with the issues of capacity and resources and its challenges in law enforcement agencies and the SAPS. She asked that the Minister of Police give the Committee an indication on a practical level on what the challenges are in terms of capacity and resources that prevented the SAPS from being able to contain the unrest. ‘What training initiatives will be implemented to ensure that the SAPS can mitigate similar situations in the future’? ‘What measures need to be undertaken to improve and strengthen the JCPS-cluster as a whole in light of the lessons learned in the combatting of the recent civil unrest’? ‘It is very concerning that police officers have been found to be involved in the unrest and also the other illegal activities’. She asked for an update on how many police officers are under investigation by the DPCI and if any other such investigations are complete, then the Committee needs to be informed of the recommendations that have been made. ‘The province can also shed light on what specific measures should be put in place to strengthen the way forward’.
Responses by the Department of Police and the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government:
Gen Sitole, the National Commissioner of Police, referred to the questions on the resources of the SAPS. He noted that the capacity of public order policing decreased in terms of crowd control despite the country’s population consisting of almost 60 million people. This has a direct impact on the immediate mobilisation of the public and the policing resources required. Most of the SAPS’ police stations have changed drastically and have overloaded profiles. You have police stations that are policing an area that requires almost more than two police stations already, which affects the police station’s ability to respond to particular situations. Most of the available helicopters are grounded and cannot fly, meaning that the whole country is sharing six helicopters. The Department of Police is currently revising these aspects and considering re-resourcing police stations, but the problem with adjustments and severe budget cuts remains concerning. The process is ongoing to include the shifting of certain physical and financial resources down to production level to support the police stations. Five police officers have been arrested relating to the recent civil unrest, of which two are reservists that have already been dismissed and the remaining three members are on suspension and have been subjected to the SAPS’ disciplinary code. Regarding the question on how long it takes the SAPS to respond to situations, he responded that it depends on the nature of the response but there is a need for entities to respond before any damage could be caused or before any lives could be threatened. The lack of adequate resources remains a problem in this regard. The Department of Police have had an effective activation plan that activated community policing, a youth crime prevention programme, the traditional policing concept, and to ensure that communities get involved and mobilised.
Lt-Gen Sehlahle Masemola, Deputy National Commissioner: Policing, noted that the SAPS and law enforcement agencies should have improved and enhanced training of first responders at police stations to prepare a response for a more widespread or simultaneous uprising. First responders from police stations would go out and try to negotiate with the protestors that are gathering and call the POP units as the standard of operating. There has never before been such a large-scale simultaneous uprising in the country. Property is not seized if people can account for the property, and if it is taken to a police station because it is suspected to be stolen, then the owner can produce a receipt to get their property back. He stated that there were allegations that security companies were involved in this shooting, and this is the reason that 16 security companies had their firearms confiscated for analysis. There was also assistance provided in the auditing of those specific companies and where there was noncompliance, certain actions were taken against those security companies. Regarding the question on the deaths of children during the uprising, he responded that detectives are uncertain as to what the causes of death were. However, when people were rushing in for looting, there were a lot of people that died in a stampede and were trampled upon. This was the main cause of death for many of the fatalities and the reason that there are many inquests recorded. It was reported that the intelligence received was generally from what was circulated in the media. Regarding the questions on the stolen ammunition, it was noted that the container that was containing that looted ammunition was the only container that was shipped into South Africa. It was discovered that the company that was supposed to be moving the container had no license to do that in terms of the law, and as such the police had not authorised the movement of the container. This matter is currently under investigation. The company was asked to move the container from the port to an accredited storage facility, but the allegation is that when the company arrived, they found the place closed and they could not access that facility. The company then opted to take the container to their own facility. Engagements are ongoing with Transnet in this regard to ensure that they are able to trace every movement of the container until its final destination. The investigations relating to the incidents in Phoenix are progressing well.
Lt. Gen. Godfrey Lebeya, the National Head of the DPCI, added that there is a need to invest more in the tactical resilience of members of law enforcement agencies to improve their physical fitness and mental state when dealing with high-stress situations such as the recent civil unrest.
Mr Gumbi, the Head of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Department of Community Safety and Transport, added that a Peace Committee has been established in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and has been given six months to understand the complexity of the issues and come up with recommendations. There is a need to come up with an intervention plans in terms of what needs to be done to avoid situations such as the recent civil unrest. In addition, there is a need for a mobilisation plan that can ensure that communities are mobilised in such situations to make recommendations for interventions to be considered.
Minister Cele emphasised the seriousness of the recent civil unrest and the looting of goods. He noted that there is an impaired response from the SAPS that is caused by the reduced proportionality between police officers and the South African population. This is because of the limited recruitment of police officers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and significant budget cuts.
The Chairperson thanked the delegations for the briefings made to the Committee, and thanked Members for the contributions made during the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.