“We are rolling out our security forces, 25,000 soldiers are now being rolled out, and in a short space of time, we would have flooded the entire [KZN] province and other provinces such as Gauteng,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an informal address to the media at the mall.
The President arrived with a phalanx of protection that included the bulky presidential unit, special units, SANDF and the police.
Ten minutes before his arrival, about 60 cars were queuing at the petrol station adjacent to the mall, volunteer groups were still cleaning the pavement and roads surrounding the shopping centre, and curious residents had made their way out of their homes and started lining the streets.
A senior police officer stepped away from his post to introduce himself to Daily Maverick. “Ma’am, I am sorry to disturb you. Do you know where we can get some bread? We are from Joburg. Couldn’t find bread. My guys haven’t had breakfast.”
A short while later, while his security was trying to keep a manageable distance between local and international media and the President, Ramaphosa said he welcomed “ordinary citizens” who had been “defending their areas and assets”.
Thousands of community patrols have been established in suburbs and townships around the province. Volunteers have been cordoning off streets, guarding shopping centres and keeping looters from their immediate neighbourhoods using walkie-talkie App Zello. Some are armed, but most have crude weapons such as sjamboks, paintball guns, air guns and hammers.
KwaZulu-Natal has been brutally affected by the vandalism and arson being perpetrated by some of the thousands of looters who have been forcing their way into shopping centres and cleaning them out, then in many cases, torching them.
The province has recorded about R16-billion in damages so far. Businesses, shops, malls, warehouses, factories, trucks and some schools have been gutted. Essential food items are in short supply, and thousands are queuing at shops that are open but limiting purchases.
At the time of writing, the death toll in the province from the unrest stood at 91, with authorities saying many of these were people killed during the looting “stampedes”.
Ramaphosa told the large media contingent at the KwaMashu mall: “We welcome the fact that ordinary citizens are working together with security forces, are standing up not only to defend their own assets, but they are also defending our democracy, because they can see that this is an assault on the democratic situation that we have in our country.”
“They are standing up and we applaud that people themselves see that there is a lot at stake.”
The “instigators” of the almost weeklong insurgency wanted to “spread instability in the country, and we don’t know what their full and true intentions are”.
With one suspect already in police custody, the alleged 12 unnamed instigators are suspected of actively promoting the civil unrest that started under the banner of a call to free former president Jacob Zuma from Estcourt Correctional Centre. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months’ direct imprisonment for being in contempt of the highest court in the land. He started his sentence last week.
“The democratic state is what our people are defending, as well as their assets,” said Ramaphosa.
The President admitted that authorities could have “acted quicker” to quell the violence, then again applauded the communities and community groups for “working with the state”.
Ramaphosa then made his way to Makro at Springfield, a light industrial, manufacturing and warehousing area in the eThekwini metro, about 15km from KwaMashu.
Much of the industry at Springfield – including Makro – had been decimated earlier in the week. Even solar panels had been removed from the extensive undercover parking area of the mass retailer.
Here, Ramaphosa’s security again battled to contain crowds that were eagerly pushing to meet him.
He also visited the Mobeni area in the south of eThekwini, a heavy industrial area that was the scene of chaos on Wednesday, as looters stripped what they could, stoned vehicles and set cars and infrastructure alight. Dozens of those with access to cars filled them to the brim with stolen goods and tried to use South Coast Road to flee into nearby suburbs.
What started as minor acts of traffic disruption late last week quickly escalated on 9 July when more than 25 trucks were torched on the N3 at the Mooi River Toll Plaza, leading to the closure of the country’s most economically important highway.
Within 48 hours, the N2 was also shut down, both north- and southbound, and malls in Umlazi and KwaMashu were looted.
By Monday, the unrest spread to the rest of eThekwini. Towns in the north, south and inland of the province were also affected.
The chaos has led to a halt in the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccine programmes, and up to six-hour queues outside petrol stations, some of which are limiting fuel. Containers are no longer allowed to be filled with petrol, for fear they could be used for Molotov cocktails or arson.
The military has been deployed in the province to protect critical infrastructure, food and fuel supplies in transit, and to support the overwhelmed and insufficient number of police. DM
Meanwhile, in Alexandra in Gauteng, the recently appointed SANDF chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya, describes their mission in this video by Felix Dlangamandla, after landing at the Alex Mall on Friday morning.