South Africa

ANALYSIS

Nine lost days: SA government was uniquely placed to stop the July insurrection – but it didn’t

Looters lie on the ground after being arrested in Johannesburg on 13 July 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / KIM LUDBROOK)

From 29 June to midnight 7 July, South Africa’s law enforcement agencies wasted nine days during which it is now clear the execution of a planned, violent insurrection was put in motion.

SA Police Service Crime Intelligence, Military Intelligence and the State Security Agency, from the date the Constitutional Court handed down Jacob Zuma’s 15-month jail sentence and set a 4 July deadline for the former president to hand himself over (extended to 7 July), missed many opportunities to rouse a hand of steady leadership over a Code Red button.

The question now is, might the inaction in fact have been a form of action in itself? 

At the time, the government was uniquely positioned in the form of the National Coronavirus Coordinating Council (NCCC) to deal with a threat of this magnitude.

The NCCC has been running South Africa since its establishment in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been at the centre of swift decision-making and has extraordinary authority.

The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) forms the technical spine of the NCCC and meets daily to process issues before it submits reports to the NCCC. 

The NCCC, together with Natjoints as its technical ballast was, and is, perfectly positioned and had extraordinary coordination ability and capacity to respond to threats to national security.

Yet, it did not.

Residents carry looted goods from department stores and shops in Soweto, Johannesburg on 12 July 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / KIM LUDBROOK)

Natjoints was co-chaired by Secretary of Defence Sam Gulube (who died on July 11) and Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola from the police. It is also made up of directors-general from all departments. 

This is no lacklustre collection of no-can-do.

It is the national coordination structure of South Africa’s security and law enforcement operations and was roped in to coordinate the government’s daily response to Covid-19.

That this highly centralised form of emergency government with daily contact between clusters and departments failed to predict the insurrection is at worst alarming and at best begs urgent closer scrutiny.

Did members of the executive who were supportive of Jacob Zuma mislead or withhold information from Natjoints and the NCCC, which could have prevented the bloodshed, material loss and violence?

Were other clusters involved in briefings; for example, the economic cluster including the SA Revenue Service which has its own intelligence capacity?

We may never know, as NCCC meetings are confidential and any information as to how decisions are taken is not made public, a situation that has been widely criticised as deeply problematic for a democratic society.

Cedric Frolick, house chair responsible for parliamentary committees and oversight, speaking to our colleague Stephen Grootes on SAFM, admitted on Wednesday that in briefings received in the aftermath of the violence and looting, “it was not evidently clear as to who could be held responsible for this.

“We did not get a satisfactory response, in terms of the preparedness of the security forces, especially intelligence, to have detected this kind of criminal action planned.” 

A second inquiry, said Frolick, would take place before the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, which also wanted to conduct an inquiry “to focus exclusively on three intelligence agencies”: Crime Intelligence (CI), the State Security Agency (SSA) and Military Intelligence (MI).

“We would have expected our colleagues in the executive to come with one coherent message; instead we have different messages coming out,” said Frolick.

He added the attacks in KZN and Gauteng had been “well orchestrated and well coordinated” and that Parliament “had a duty to keep whoever is responsible for proactive intelligence accountable and also the political principals have to explain what happened afterwards”. 

Looting in Soweto, Johannesburg, on 12 July 2021. Former president Jacob Zuma was arrested on 7 July. (Photo: EPA-EFE / KIM LUDBROOK)

Of course, the key obstacle to any government response prior to and during the “attempted insurrection” is that CI, MI and the SSA could not have placed any value on intel emanating from within the governing party itself. 

The footprint of the attack and the modus operandi of the instigators does not need rocket science to decode. 

This was no organic insurrection. It was a violent attack on democratic South Africa from within the ruling party itself.

 On 2 July, the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA), which essentially functions as a rogue militia, spokesperson Carl Niehaus already warned that “violence is inevitable”. 

At a press conference from the former president’s home at Nkandla, Niehaus threatened that should Zuma be sent to jail, “our country will be torn apart”.

“We have warned, and we as MKMVA, because of the military training of our members, have the ability to understand what happens in society. We can understand what the consequences will be of certain actions. We have warned that the consequences of imprisoning president Jacob Zuma will be dire for our nation,” he said.

It is clear that Niehaus was the face of the broadcast of the instruction to the insurrectionists. He should be arrested and charged, this time not for breaking Covid-19 regulations, but for inciting violence.

Eyes should have been on those in the not inconsiderable crowd of supporters who drove in triumphantly from eThekwini to Nkandla and who melted away in the night afterwards.

Residents flee from police following sporadic looting at Letsoho Mall in Katlehong, Gauteng. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

And here we are, because of it. More than 300 dead, and billions of rands lost in damage to infrastructure, the economy and business. 

Before Niehaus’s incendiary speech at Nkandla there was and is enough open-source evidence available to lead a sightless bear to a low hanging honeycomb.

On 2 July Jacob Zuma’s eldest daughter, Duduzile, tweeted: “Take the day off from being the bigger person and choose violence”.

This was a week before her father was whisked off in a convoy close to midnight to begin life as a convicted lawbreaker.

Niehaus himself is more of a prop for the MKMVA (who funds, trains and arms it is another matter), that has shown it is capable of unleashing chaos and destabilisation.

Until recently Niehaus was employed as a glove puppet in the now suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule’s office. 

MKMVA itself is commanded by Mduduzi Mkhize, who has made public his unequivocal support for Zuma. The militia has public ties with the All Truck Drivers’ Forum and Allied South Africa (ATDF ASA) and with Delangokubona, which positions itself as “the voice of small and medium business in facilitating business opportunities for a radical growth” and which has been accused of being a “construction mafia”.

Daily Maverick has learned from a reliable source that Delangokubona has over time extracted a percentage from mall and warehouse construction projects in KwaZulu-Natal. In 2013 Delangokubona held the South African National Roads Agency hostage, demanding 30% participation in an interchange project. This has cost contractors more than R40-million in penalties for delays to construction in those years. The “construction mafia” has severely hampered development in KZN.

In November 2020 hundreds of MKMVA veterans, truck drivers and unemployed graduates marched from eThekwini City Hall, hoping to make their way to the Point area to demand that foreign business owners, traders and truck drivers close shop and leave the country. 

Back then already, Zibuse Cele, “convener” of MKMVA in eThekwini disclosed that veterans had formed a “joint venture” with ATDF ASA to confront the “problem” of foreign nationals being preferred over locals when it came to employment.

A drone image shows the extent of the damage caused to the United Phosphorus Limited warehouse, northern Durban, on 21 July 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Minister of Police Bheki Cele blundered into the minefield by suggesting that foreign traders in Durban’s Church Walk market needed to make way for locals selling traditional goods. 

KwaMashu and Umlazi were the scenes of severe xenophobic clashes in 2015 which left hundreds of foreign nationals dead or displaced.

The “dozens” of attacks on trucks along the N3, connecting Durban’s port to Gauteng and other southern African trading partners, have long threatened this critical link for KwaZulu-Natal and the country. 

What we do know is that the hounds of hell were unleashed after Zuma’s arrest.

The former president had hardly had his fingerprints taken at the Estcourt Correctional Centre when the flames engulfed the Mooi River Toll Plaza a short distance from his new home.

From there outbreaks spread to the Umzinto Correctional Services, where a fire broke out and Mayville, where attacks of arson took place. Alpine Road in Pinetown was blocked with burning debris and in KwaMashu the Boxer Cash and Carry was looted. Protests also erupted in Ntuzuma E Section, Phoenix and Verulam.

On 10 July the violence and lawlessness continued with looting at the Nyala Centre in KwaMashu.

After the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed Zuma’s application to have his arrest stayed pending a rescission application to the Constitutional Court, violence flared up at the Mooi River Toll Plaza just down the way from Estcourt as roads were blockaded, cars stoned and trucks torched.

In KwaMashu another cash and carry store was looted and soon fires were raging in Empangeni, Verulam, Inanda and Eshowe.

By nightfall more than 30 trucks had been set alight, with looters stripping vehicles.

And then Gauteng picked up the spark with incidents of violence and looting in Jeppe and Alexandra.

On July 10 former radio DJ and staunch Zuma supporter Ngizwe Mchunu, who has since been arrested, addressed hostel dwellers at the Kwa Mai Mai market in Johannesburg, demanding the release of Zuma “or hell will break loose!”.

The following day, 11 July, the Johannesburg CBD erupted. There were widespread looting sprees in Malvern, Jeppestown, Denver and Wynberg. A car dealership was torched in Malvern as the chaos moved to Ekhurhuleni.

By 12 July, Gauteng had been brought to a standstill with rail services cancelled. In Durban, bus and taxi services ground to a halt while looting and destruction continued. On that day judgment in Zuma’s rescission application to the Constitutional Court was reserved.

Meanwhile, the Westwood Mall in Durban was targeted while the SAPS and criminals were embroiled in a shootout on the N2 nearby.

Then in Mamelodi, Tshwane, looters targeted Mams Mall, a mosque was set on fire in Durban, shops were plundered and pharmacies were raided. In Protea Glen, Soweto, looters rampaged through a shopping complex.

Residents in suburbs and townships armed themselves, in some cases resorting to vigilante reprisals.

On 13 July in Camps Drift, Pietermaritzburg, the China Mall was set on fire, while north of Durban the Massmart distribution centre went up in flames.

Petrol stations were vandalised as the troops of insurrection began to target warehouses which could have replenished supplies in the region. The plan, it seems, was to starve the population into rebellion.

In Alexandra the Pan African Mall was destroyed, in KZN a clothing factory was set alight and even the ANC’s office in Protea Glen was ransacked.

On Tuesday, 13 July as the looting and violence reached a peak, the Jacob G Zuma Foundation suggested it had the power to stop the violence.

“Peace and stability in South Africa is directly linked to the release of President Zuma with immediate effect,” the foundation tweeted. 

As colleague Rebecca Davis has reported, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala also made public his support for the former president, stating on Facebook: “Nxamalala, we stand with you”.

“With the top echelons of political power in the province seemingly rooting for the jailed Zuma, questions are being asked about whether this bias is also entrenched within the province’s security forces,” noted Davis.

By 14 July, taxi associations began to protect businesses from looting and ordinary South Africans began to emerge shell-shocked from the chaos, fear, heartache and loss, determined to pick up the pieces.

Two of the country’s ministers are at each other’s throats about this while a third, Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula at first denied that an “attempted insurrection” had occurred, but later changed her tune.

Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo, says the SSA had obtained information on 28 June already and passed this on to the SAPS. Minister of Police Bheki Cele in turn denied he had been informed.

Don’t hold out too much for the inquiries which might take place behind closed doors with the excuse that “intelligence” matters are off limits. 

The public should demand that the ruling party hold open hearings as it is clear this was no ordinary threat to our collective safety and security. 

We deserve to know how the government allowed this crisis to reach a point where hundreds of lives were brutally lost and billions of rands went up in smoke, and which officials will be held accountable.

Either way, the plotters and the planners have left their fingerprints everywhere to be located and successfully charged. No parliamentary inquiry is needed for that… it’s all there, in plain sight. DM

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All Comments 12

  • SA, don’t hold your breath! The rats and mice will be targeted; while the fat cats will get away scott free and be allowed to to do it all again!

  • In plain sight for authorities to ignore. The security footage alone should illustrate who’s involved but WhatsApp etc should provide enough to rove who, where and when. But none of that will be enough. What use is the SApS grabber?

  • I find it mindboggling that our journalists can piece together events and situations, along with the huge feed of credible analyses on social media by credible sources, and yet it seems our so-called political leadership and the pretense for a security cluster is still fumbling around completely unclear about what the heck happened?? Demonstrates a level of incompetence and dereliction that is hard to make up!!

    • They know exactly what happened, but the solution (fire & charge the bastards) isn’t as easy as it seems from the outside. CR is walking a tightrope, with an NEC & security cluster packed with RET hyaenas who can’t easily be dislodged, and a party at war with itself. SA has no viable opposition party, thanks to the DA’s decision to scuttle their democratic ‘experiment’ and revert to being a lobby group for WC property developers, and that leaves us with the limping, stuttering, opaque CR regime, vs a horde of angry thieves who need to keep the cash funnels open at all costs, including imploding the entire economy.

  • Clearly, the Natjoints and NCCC, as a collection of people in charge of the country at this point in time, has directly failed the country. It was only the normal law-abiding citizens that saved the day against total destruction. Thanks for reminding us who were, and still are, actually in charge of the country’s governance. All it is is further proof of the ANC’s inability to govern.

  • It might just be that this goes so high up in the ANC that no one wants to touch it. It doesn’t bode well for the future of the country if we continue to be governed by a bunch of thieves, rogues and bangbroek politicians.

    • It surely does. If the RET faction had recruited a respectable face to the protests then it could have been worse, there must be sympathetic KZN Army Generals, and then a coup of the ANC and de facto the Country. Next is the threat for JZ to be released within 14 days of warning. We are 1st / 3rd world mix. The last Zuma years has taken a major toll on the Country. That is why Cyril has to tread carefully with half his cabinet batting for Zuma.

  • #voetsekANC is about all I can muster anymore in response to the litany of criminal acts, incompetence and stupidity foisted on SA by the morons running it. As someone said on the WhatsApp group article, the ANC is now the single biggest threat facing SA.

  • Friend of a friend was part of a successful neighbourhood watch in KZN that week, until some SAPS members got involved in their communication channels. Suddenly their group suffered all kinds of misinformation. My conclusion was that some SAPS members were unfortunately part of the insurrection.

    • Mari, tell your friend of a friend not to include the SAPS in its meetings. Qhere I have been, we have discovered this quickly. Trust no-one. Especially the police, defence force, anc, parliament, politicians, big organisations. Well, trust no-one.