South Africa


Suspended ANC members Carl Niehaus and Andile Lungisa on WhatsApp group for planning riots and looting

Suspended ANC members Carl Niehaus and Andile Lungisa on WhatsApp group for planning riots and looting
Looters in Spine Road behind Pavilion Mall in Durban on 12 July 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

A WhatsApp group has emerged as the focal point for the eight days of riots and looting that claimed more than 300 lives and ripped R50bn out of a struggling economy.

Suspended ANC members and leading lights of the so-called RET faction, Carl Niehaus and Andile Lungisa, are the only two national figures who were part of the main WhatsApp group formed to plan protests when former president Jacob Zuma was jailed.

The protests led to the worst riots and looting democratic South Africa has seen, as organisers lost control of the campaign that claimed more than 300 lives, more than 75,000 jobs and cost more than R50-billion in economic losses. 

The WhatsApp group was initially called “Free Zuma co-ordinators” but later changed its name to “Free Zuma information”. They planned numerous such groups across the country, but this is regarded as the main one by ANC activists who infiltrated some of the groups. 

Parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were hard hit by violence and looting that went on for a week. KZN was Ground Zero of the destabilisation campaigns. Activists in the ANC are compiling lists of fellow ANC members on the groups to show how a factional war in the party descended into chaos. 

Niehaus and Lungisa have denied that they had a hand in fomenting the violence. Niehaus, the former spokesperson for the now-disbanded Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), has threatened to sue Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula for defamation after he named him (Niehaus) as an instigator of the violence. 

But, as the graphic (below) of the group shows, both men were in the key organising group. Lungisa has confirmed this to Daily Maverick, but Niehaus did not respond to requests for comment. 

whatsapp group

The two men did not post messages about where to go, what to loot or what to do, as other members did. Nor did they post gloating messages about “successful” freeway blockades or looting sprees, as others did. 

Several individuals recorded threats of extreme violence and posted these to the group. The group was formed the day after Zuma was jailed. Lungisa’s only message on the group was to correct information about suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. 

“I am part of several ‘Free Zuma’ groups. These are groups formed by ANC and the wider national democratic movement activists who disagreed with the imprisonment of president Zuma, basing themselves on the Constitutional Court minority view. 

“The Whatsup (sic) groups that you refer to were communication centers (sic) among various protests across the country. We never considered the looting and destruction of Black businesses and loss of life as ‘successes’… These riots might have been a warning shot if we as a country do not affirm the humanity of African people,” said Lungisa. 

On 14 July, police minister Bheki Cele said police were investigating 12 instigators, but two weeks later there is no clarity on who these people are. On the same day, state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo said the National Security Council had received information about the specific individuals regarded as instigators. 

By 20 July, authorities said that six had been arrested, but did not name them as they had not yet been charged. 

On Tuesday, 20 July, President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “Special law enforcement units continue investigations into those responsible for instigating this violence with a view to speedy arrest and effective prosecution.” 

On Sunday, 25 July, Ramaphosa said, “There will be further arrests of those who planned and executed these attacks.” He did not say when this might happen. 

Former spymaster Thulani Dlomo handed himself over to police after being named as an instigator in news reports, but was not arrested. And former eThekwini mayor, Zandile Gumede, reported to Durban police the existence of voice-notes naming her as a ringleader. 

The two known arrests are those of former Ukhozi-FM DJ Ngizwe Mchunu and Patriotic Alliance West Rand mayoral candidate Bruce Nimmerhout, who is regarded as an opportunistic political junior. 


An aerial image of the 60,000 square metre Game, Massmart distribution centre in Riverhorse Valley, 21 July 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Mchunu made a fiery speech at Kwa Mai Mai market in Johannesburg on 9 July, warning of violence if Zuma was arrested. Nimmerhout made a copycat WhatsApp note (similar to those which first circulated from 9 July) calling for looting and blockades in the West Rand. He was promptly identified and arrested. 

Neither is a mastermind or even what could be described as an “instigator” of the violence.

The delays in making more arrests could be explained by political considerations of an investigation that could lead police into the heart of the ANC. This could destroy the already wafer-thin unity with which the party governs South Africa. 

The dynamics of the ANC in KZN is playing a role too — it is by far the party’s biggest province by membership and, therefore, its most powerful. Zuma’s jailing has had a massive impact on the party in the province and the premier, Sihle Zikalala, is under the whip. There is a confluence of political interests at play which could well explain the delayed investigation.

This report, for example, shows the 12 accounts on Twitter that amplified the message to release Zuma or face the consequences. Among them are prominent RET accounts that have previously been used to turn Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign into a scandal (the so-called #CR17 bank statements). Other accounts are usually used to build a campaign for Magashule to run for ANC president in 2022. 

The WhatsApp supporters used groups to organise the riots and looting from 9-16 July, then amplified the campaign on Twitter to build popular support, as UCT’s Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change has found.

Police crime intelligence and cyber-crimes units are reportedly studying the WhatsApp groups and the social media campaign leading up to the violence. Still, the jury is out on their ability to turn these into successful case files. This is because crime intelligence was completely hollowed out during the State Capture era, as Caryn Dolley shows here. The Cyber Crime Unit is not well equipped or resourced for new forms of incitement that technology has made possible. 

These two factors, with the political considerations, means that clarity on who lit and then fanned the flames that made July 2021 a month never to be forgotten is still some way off. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    No consequences by our spineless President. The incompetence of his security team is glaring, but they are still getting paid. Will Ramaphosa ever wake up and realise that the ANC in its present form is unsustainable?

    • Hiram C Potts says:

      Not only is it unsustainable, the ANC in its present form poses the single biggest threat to our country.

    • Simon D says:

      Sadly Hermann I think you’re right. Cyril dillies through talking like a meek schoolboy trying to impress mommy, a little emotion and anger and actually taking a hard stand would go a long way. Too little, too slow, too ineffective. I know all the supporters will say “it’s easy to critisise behind a computer”, but genuinely, he really needs to stand up and get angry, make changes, put down his foot. Either way he’s out, so might as well go out in a blaze of glory and be respected instead of being mocked.

      • Lesley Young says:

        Unfortunately he is a democratically elected President, not a Dictator.

        • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

          That may be so, but the anc is there to rule not to govern. That basically makes the organisation what, a democratically elected lootership.

        • Dellarose Bassa says:

          Correction: The citizens do not democratically elect the President in SA. We don’t even vote for individual people nationally or provincially. Our system is based on voting for a political party. The party then chooses who goes to parliament/ serves in the Municipality, etc. In the Municipal elections, at least you know who’s up for ward Councillor – in essence, you’re voting for a party. The proportional representation councillors follow the same route as Prov & National members of these legislatures. So, these MPs, Councillors owe allegiance to the Party bosses rather than the constituents they should be serving without fear or favour. Their main focus is on securing the favour & patronage of the party bosses. The President had to win the favour of the ANC branches – that, too, the branches are represented by certain nominated branch members who go to the national elective conference ostensibly carrying the mandate of the branch they represent. Of course, there’s no accounting for whether they actually vote according to their mandate. In any event, the branches of the ruling party are in such a state of non-regulated chaos, that anyone who can pay a membership fee R10 p/a?)- or have it paid for them – can vote. The branches are in a state of disarray. Proper audited membership records are not always available. Often branch meetings are exposed to violent fisticuffs, gunshots, stabbings, etc. More like rule of fear rather than a properly constituted meeting. Go figure.

        • Hermann Funk says:

          He doesn’t have to be a dictator to grow a backbone.

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:


  • Gerhard Pretorius says:


  • Peter Worman says:

    And two weeks later not a single high level instigator arrested. Once again criminal behaviour by senior ANC politicians is ignored/condoned

  • Alley Cat says:

    “Bheki Cele said police were investigating 12 instigators, but two weeks later there is no clarity on who these people are”.

  • Chris Green says:

    A Luta Continua !!! The Looting Continues. If I had suggested this even just 3 weeks ago, this DM community would correctly have laughed it off as the ravings of a ….. However, the “IRRELEVANCE Quotient” of Zuma, his sons / family has started to gain significance, his slide into ignominy is gathering momentum and, if we can get the media to STOP giving them a platform through which to perpetuate their “story”, the speed of both will increase to the advantage of every real South African.

  • Jeremy Collins says:

    A campaign with one objective: weaken Rhamphosa by destabilising the country.

    Whatever you think about Cyril, bear in mind that among the instigators are those who stand to lose the most if he wins another term and continues cleaning house.

    While some of us apparently wanted nothing less than immediate public executions of RET criminals and abolition of all regulation and unions, consider that CR is actually doing his best to steer our sinking ship away from the RET reef. And bay for his blood, but know that all of those RET snouts will be back in the trough if CR gets ousted. And if you think things are bad now, the RET gang have a surprise for you!

    • Lesley Young says:

      I totally agree. The eggshells have not gone away. It’s still a matter of ‘softly softly catchy monkey’.

    • John L says:

      CR may be doing his best, but his best is not good enough, he doesn’t have the balls. There has been no action, arrests, strong condemnation, firings, discipline….. He hasn’t even made a stand. He is not steering a sinking ship…. he’s still looking for the ship

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    I am not sure what this article is saying. Yes, I can imagine these two belonging to this WhatsApp group, but so what? Apparently they did not say anything to fan the flames.
    The other comment I have: We often hear the message of how deep in trouble the economy is, how ‘this-or-that’ is the last straw, how we are at the edge of the precipice. And yet here we are, the economy taking another R50bn hit and we are still (seemingly) doing okay-ish. Are these figures real or are we just repeating numbers that some government rocket scientist dropped in a meeting?

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    “On Sunday, 25 July, Ramaphosa said, “There will be further arrests of those who planned and executed these attacks.” He did not say when this might happen.” Please don’t hold your breath!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    These two are just lightweight cannon fodder. The real instigators come from outside the country. The insurrection plus the cyber attack on our transport systems that followed are just too much of a co incidence!
    A socialist government to replace our current quasi semi- capitalist Democracy is the aim here. In which case the color red features predominantly. Follow the money trail, find out who is funding the EFF ( China, Russia or even India) find where the cyber attacks originated and we will find the answer. In my opinion.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      And we have no choice but to support CR.
      If he goes then the country goes….there is not one reliable trustworthy person waiting in the wings to fill his shoes. CR is the only thing standing between us and a) changes to the Constitution and b) nationalization of the Reserve Bank – two things that are keeping us from becoming a collapsed state and a “shithole African country” to coin Trumps phrase!

  • Gazeley Walker says:

    This was a well orchestrated operation, the masses seemed to know where to gather and what shops to attack and loot, someone communicated this detail and I am sure there must be a trail for the investigators to follow, that is if they are genuinely going to act and arrest all of those involved in setting up this insurrection.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Time to call in the private sector to do the work. Half the cost and twice the speed and effectiveness !!

  • HUBERT FERIS says:

    Having all this info at your disposal- AND putting it out there- where are the police and the country’s enforcement services that they do not make arrests?!

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    To get to the bottom of the instigators and the “insurrection”,the ANC should hire some private security firms , or well known “sleuths” Of course, that will never happen, because of what would emerge- a veritable Pandora’s box would be revealed!The party is probably quaking at the thought of a “reveal” and so the present pitiful pickings are probably fine!

  • Alan Mitchell says:

    The severe damage caused to our country by Zuma and his clan has been more devastating than any lab leaked virus could ever be. This is what they planned all along, to weaken and cancel out all the competent competition and ride roughshod over decency, to rule and loot forever. Just look at the nincompoops that were installed in key posts under his watch. These incompetents will remain forever unrepentant and cause havoc at every opportunity, they are a cancer to humanity. I trust that history will judge the Zuma “family” likewise.

  • Starry Eve Collett says:

    Investigative journalism has become the crime intelligence of this country. What would we do without you? How can we help?

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