Narissa Subramoney
Copy rewriter
5 minute read
7 Feb 2022
4:03 pm

Internal ANC problems a matter of national security – July riots report

Narissa Subramoney

July unrest planners, outwitted and outlasted security cluster. Future large-scale riots a certainty, because little has changed since.

People flee from police while looting and vandalising the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, last week. Picture: AFP

A panel of experts appointed to investigate the reasons behind the July 2021 riots, found that internal ANC battles have now become a matter of national security.

The report raises concerns factional battles within the governing ANC have become a serious source of instability in the country.

“The security services are uncertain about how to effectively address this convergence of violent criminal conduct with mainstream politics, given the correct posture taken by the country to ensure that political activity stays free of state security interference,” reads the report.

Throughout the 154 page findings, while testimonies from participants varied, one thing was unanimous: The arrest of former President Jacob Zuma was the catalyst for the ‘orgy of violence that unfolded.’

“In our discussions with Ministers and senior officials, there was almost unanimous agreement that the incident that triggered the eruption of violence was the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma, following the tense stand-off with the police.”

Even more damaging, the report found that while there was crime intelligence forewarning officials that Zuma’s arrest would result in organised protest activity, this was not properly communicated between the various intelligence structures and committees and between the country’s executives.

ALSO READ: ANC KZN PEC fails to hold its structures to account for July riots

The role of social media

The review panel outright rejected the notion from some cabinet ministers and police top brass that there wasn’t sufficient intelligence to anticipate the growing discord, saying there had been plenty of insight on public platforms in the days leading up to the attacks.

The July riot planners made extensive use of social media platforms to plan attacks, instigate the violence, organise themselves to carry out the attacks and disseminate information.

“They left a clear trail of evidence and as a result, several could be apprehended and charged,” said the report.

Communities and businesses, including railway giant Transnet, had also made use of social media platforms during the violence in organising to defend themselves, communities and businesses, because it proved fast, inexpensive, and efficient.

There were several emboldened calls on social media for a national shutdown. In fact, several communities were made aware that something was potting in the days leading up to the violence.

Business delegations also informed the panel that they had been made aware that violence was imminent.

“It struck us as inexplicable that the security services, and in particular the intelligence services, did not know the violence would happen and take the form that it did.

“The intelligence services have at their disposal the most intrusive of state powers, and from what we learnt did not use
such powers to the extent that they could and should have,” said the report.

ALSO READ: 77 companies affected by July riots approved for government aid

Cele and Sithole contentious relationship

While police admitted they were outwitted, outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by the July riots planners, the report makes several other disturbing findings of the country’s security cluster.

What is apparent, is the contentious relationship between National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole and Police Minister Bheki Cele. Both men had very different opinions about whether officers did enough to prevent the violence.

Cele publicly criticised police handling of the riots saying tactical units could’ve and should’ve prevented the violence.

The panel found this statement had major consequences as people died and properties destroyed, exposing the state to major claims.

Equally, Sitole “cannot just throw his hands in the air” and state that the police were overwhelmed as there would be future protests with large numbers of people.

The police also failed to adapt and manage their responses when they witnessed what was unfolding.

One finding in the report regarding the police was that they avoided the use of excessive force “which suggests that previous lessons about the consequences of using lethal force are being heeded.”

The Executive is to blame for July riots

One of the biggest complaints from KwaZulu-Natal residents and businesses was the excruciatingly slow pace at which the army was deployed.

The report found that cabinet, particularly the then minister of defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula delayed the deployment of members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Nqakula at the time felt that the police, although understaffed and under-resourced, could contain the widespread violence that was unfolding across two of the country’s most populous provinces but could not reach a consensus with other cabinet ministers.

Soldiers were only deployed after President Cyril Ramaphosa heeded calls from citizens, businesses and provincial premiers.

Although SANDF had been watching developments, “due to the delay with the executive, soldiers did not undertake any scenario planning for possible sudden deployment, as a result, soldiers didn’t know which areas needed their intervention.”

Mapisa-Nqakula also displayed a stunning lack of understanding about the chain of the protocol in her own department.

She was under the impression that Cele had to ask her first, when in fact SAPS request for assistance is directed to Ramaphosa, who then gives the defence department the instruction to deploy.

“The initial hesitancy to deploy resulted in the violence spiraling further out of control,” the panel found.

Mapisa-Nqakula has since been appointed Speaker of Parliament.

The panel has recommended that the process to deploy soldiers needed to be streamlined, and recommended that the minister of police directly engage with the president who will then instruct the defence minister.

Cabinet ministers overreach in intelligence

“Ministers seemed to have been more directly involved in intelligence and operational work than their portfolios require,” the report found.

It found there is an element of executive overreach or interference in the line function work of the services.

“At best, the lines between the executive authorities and the security services seemed blurred.”

While the report acknowledged that the July riots were spurred by a combination of complex, multi-dimensional, and obscure factors, it noted that the outbreak of violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has never been seen before in our post-apartheid democracy.

The report found that high unemployment levels, the culture of violence and the looting bonanza of state resources have created the perfect breeding grounds for future violent outbreaks of this scale.