A panel of experts appointed to investigate the July 2021 riots found that poorly rolled-out programmes of service delivery and unacceptable living conditions were at the core of the unrest that erupted in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in the wake of former president Jacob Zuma’s incarceration.
While the report also raised concerns that the ongoing factional battles within the governing African National Congress (ANC) may have been serious source of instability, it cited: “Poorly rolled out programmes of service delivery, and unacceptable living conditions, the state of the economy, and the persistent levels of poverty, served to provide the ripe environment to light the tinder box that was the incarceration of former president Zuma.”
It said that this led to “many poor and desperate people joining in the looting, alongside those more calculating in their objectives and motivation.”
The report said that the violence in some communities exposed deep-seated racial prejudices and tensions, “indicating that there is much to be done to achieve racial justice and greater social cohesion”, referring to 36 deaths in Phoenix, north of Durban, at the time.
The panel also spared no rod for the country’s intelligence for it’s poor response.
It said that there was ambivalence and hesitancy on the part of the intelligence services about whether they should gather intelligence about persons with a political profile, for fear of being castigated for interfering in politics.
“There was a significant intelligence failure to anticipate, prevent or disrupt the planned and orchestrated violence.”
It said that Cabinet must shoulder overall responsibility for the events and:
- Drive a national response plan that demonstrates its own willingness to be held accountable, and to hold the public office bearers who failed in their responsibilities to account.
- Give regular feedback on what is happening to ensure that those who planned and instigated the violence are being brought to book.
- Local government should be encouraged to undertake initiatives, including strengthening community policing forums, that establish partnerships between the public and the police.
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 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.
Additional reporting by Narissa Subramoney