Police Minister Bheki Cele on Tuesday praised SAPS’s response to the mob attacks, looting and arson that broke out in Johannesburg two weeks ago and said it could have been far worse had the police not acted on intelligence to prevent further attacks.
“There are so many things that are stopped here in South Africa because of intelligence. Otherwise, there could have been a lot of trouble. Even now, the places that were attacked, they are less than the places where there was prevention,” said Cele, speaking in a parliamentary debate on the recent violence.
Cele and SAPS have been criticised for failing to have the intelligence to prevent and promptly act on attacks, but he claimed police intelligence had helped prevent violence spreading in areas such as Soshanguve, Primrose and Alberton.
Twelve people have been killed – two foreigners and 10 South Africans – since the attacks began over two weeks ago in Johannesburg and spread to parts of Ekurhuleni and Tshwane. Cele said over 650 suspects have been arrested, including 15 arrested in Thokoza on Monday.
Tuesday’s parliamentary debate on the violence followed a briefing from Cabinet’s justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) cluster where ministers outlined the plan to halt the attacks.
The JCPS tried to appease both those concerned with immediately preventing further violence and holding the responsible accountable, as well as those concerned with undocumented migrants in South Africa.
The cluster said the attacks were criminal and not xenophobic. Cele said when visiting affected areas he saw local- and foreign-owned stores had been attacked, “which told us that we are dealing with criminality and it’s not true that those shops were selected to be burnt. Every shop that was there was burnt”.
Reading the JCPS statement, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said intelligence agencies were “working day and night” to prevent further violence and are helping to identify suspects and ringleaders.
“Crime Intelligence has been providing ongoing operational support through the submission of early-warning reports at both provincial and national level. This has helped in the containment of planned acts of violence before they can take place,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
The minister said charges against the 650 suspects arrested during the violence include public violence, arson, theft, possession of stolen property, possession of unlicensed firearms, attempted murder, murder, business robbery, and contravention of the Gathering Act.
The JCPS cluster also said it will clamp down on businesses employing foreigners without the proper documentation. It said 1,048 employers had been charged in the first six months of 2019 with breaching immigration laws, over half of which were in Gauteng. Over 10,000 undocumented migrants were deported over the same period.
“There will be continuous joint inspections by the different law enforcement agencies countrywide to ensure compliance with the laws of the country. South Africa is not a xenophobic country. Whoever is found on the wrong side of the law will be dealt with,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
There is speculation that the attacks in Gauteng are linked to the attacks on foreign truck drivers in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. The JCPS cluster said over 170 people have been arrested in relation to those attacks, but it did not outline a clear strategy to deal with the ongoing targeting of trucks.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said on Tuesday that, to stop the violence in Gauteng, Cele must immediately implement an emergency budget, increase the number of public order police and reservists, and share intelligence information with metro police.
“The only way we will restore peace and calm to these areas is through far more efficient policing. We need to be able to arrest those who are destroying property and looting shops, and we need to be able to identify and apprehend those who are orchestrating the violence,” said Maimane in Johannesburg.
Speaking during the parliamentary debate, former IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi defended his visit to the Jeppe men’s hostel on Sunday, where violence broke out shortly after his address, and warned there would be consequences for South Africans across the continent should the attacks continue.
“I fear what will happen if we fail to extinguish this fire. There are consequences for our country and for our people in the diaspora. We need to stop this thing in its tracks before serious action is taken against us,” said Buthelezi, calling the violence xenophobic.
IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa summed up the message from many MPs, across various parties, during the debate: violence cannot be tolerated, but the government must better control immigration.
“Nobody is saying Africans should not be in South Africa, but what we are saying is that we need to be responsible about the movement of people so that consequence management can become part and parcel of law enforcement,” said Hlengwa. DM
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