Rampant and largely unchecked looting continued in parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday, with the true toll of the damage and loss of life likely to only be known when the violence subsides.
It’s not clear how many people have died as a result of the unrest that erupted in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng after former president Jacob Zuma was jailed last week.
On Monday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned the names of 10 people who lost their lives, Nkosikhona Chiza, Ndumiso Shezi, Khaya Mkhize, Zethembe Ndwandwe, Lindani Bhengu and Lindokuhle Gumede in Gauteng, Bhekani Ndlovu, Themba Mthembu, Aphiwe Gama and Cebo Dlamini.
In a Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) briefing on Tuesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said there were still 10 confirmed fatalities nationally. But earlier on Tuesday, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala said 26 people had died as a result of the unrest in his province.
Gauteng provincial officials told media that 11 people had died during a stampede Ndofaya Mall in Meadowlands, Soweto, bringing the province’s total number of fatalities to 19.
Cele said 10 deaths had been confirmed while police were trying to verify whether other reported fatalities were linked to the violence.
Besides the death toll, another unknown is how the police and intelligence agencies allowed the situation to spiral out of control to the point where the looting of malls is broadcast live on TV with no police response and how in some instances SAPS officers have been pictured watching on without acting.
“I want South Africans to rest assured we did avert a lot. What you see is only a part of what could have happened,” said State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo during the JCPS briefing. The public hasn’t seen how the State Security Agency (SSA) and SAPS’s Crime Intelligence had acted with police to prevent planned attacks in Sandton, Johannesburg, and on Westville Prison and the ANC’s provincial office in eThekwini.
“I categorically refuse to acknowledge an untruth that there was spectacular failure by intelligence. Intelligence has done the best that it could. We have supplied the information to law enforcement to do its work,” said Dlodlo.
Cele said SAPS members had to weigh the balance between protecting property with potential loss of life and officers should be congratulated for showing restraint and using minimum force to avoid fatalities.
Cele said 757 suspects had been arrested during the unrest, which appeared to erupt last Friday in response to Zuma’s incarceration and then turned into rampant looting, potentially exacerbated by the hardship many people have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic. Of those arrests, 304 were in KwaZulu-Natal and 453 in Gauteng. While he was speaking, Cele said another 30 people had been arrested in Gauteng.
Cele said SAPS will look at suspects who were “just taken by the mob spirit” while also targeting agitators of violence. Asked whether SAPS was looking at Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, who appears to have promoted violence on social media, the minister said the police are looking at 10 to 12 people who are believed to have contributed to promoting and orchestrating the unrest.
Dlodlo confirmed that some former SSA members, believed to have been aligned to Zuma while he was accused of turning the intelligence agency into a personal fiefdom, are being investigated for organising the unrest.
In his briefing, Premier Zikalala suggested the unrest still related to Zuma, whom he defended while also calling for peace. He encouraged legal protests while warning against criminality.
“We understand calls for the release of Zuma as the main cause for the instability. The cause has degenerated into criminality. Zuma worked hard for our province and country,” said the premier.
“It would be good to see the former president released but it cannot justify violence. Vandalism, stealing in shops are criminal acts.”
Around 2,500 members of the SANDF have been deployed to help police quell violence in the two provinces and members of the military were seen in communities on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the deployment was originally aimed at protecting national key points but soldiers had been required to defend malls from looting. National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole said SAPS, with SANDF support, had sufficient capacity to respond to the unrest, despite clearly being overwhelmed in the last few days.
Multiple reports of abuse were lodged against SANDF members when they were deployed during the Level 5 Covid-19 lockdown last year, including the death of Collins Khoza in Alexandra. SANDF Chief of Joint Operations Major General Siphiwe Sangweni said members of the military had been trained to respect codes of conduct while dealing with citizens.
“I cannot stand here and say there will not be any misconduct but there are measures to deal with misconduct in the military and in any environment, even at home,” said Sangweni.
Sitole added, “If they act outside the scope of the law, they also then become subject of the investigation.”
While leaders in other provinces remain alert about the unrest spreading, the violence has been contained to specific areas in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
Videos of violence in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, circulated on Tuesday but provincial MPL Ricardo Mackenzie said residents had reacted to a petty thief before police intervened. He said there was no looting taking place. Western Cape SAPS Commissioner Thembisile Patekile said there had been “no incidents today that alarm us”.
In Limpopo, where there were unconfirmed reports of looting overnight, a number of organisations said they were prepared to prevent potential violence and looting.
Moletjie Taxi Association spokesperson Noko Mokwatedi said he doesn’t want to see what’s happening in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal spread to the province. “We also want to work for our children and not create unemployment,” said Mokwatedi.
While the spread of the unrest has so far been limited, Dlodlo warned that the violence could morph. She said the SSA was looking into the possibility of attacks on foreign nationals and a rise in right-wing violence, which has become a concern after some communities in KwaZulu-Natal have banded together to protect their areas.
Cele said residents need to help police to quell the violence but he cautioned that they should be working with SAPS and must fight criminality rather than judging people on race or class. DM
Additional reporting by Sune Payne and Rolivhuwa Sadiki/Mukurukuru Media