Despite official promises, it is still not certain that the full truth about the July violence will ever be made fully public, in a courtroom. As there is clear evidence that the violence was the result of ANC members’ actions, it is in the interests of many in the party that no accountability is established and no crimes end up punished.
While this silence may be politically convenient for the ruling party, it is being paid for by a raised level of risk for South Africa. If a group of people was able to cause this much violence, damage and death with no consequences, political, legal or otherwise, there will be nothing to stop it from doing so again.
In the hours after the start of the violence, leaders in the government and the ANC promised that “the law will take its course”. President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his address to the nation, “We will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute those who perpetrate these actions and will ensure that they face the full might of our law.”
But so far there is little evidence to suggest that this has happened.
Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Tuesday that a twelfth suspect had been arrested in connection with instigating and arranging the violence. But he has made announcements like this before and as yet we are no clearer to knowing what exactly happened.
Last week, despite the National Prosecuting Authority saying that it had a strong case against him and that he was a flight risk, Ngizwe Mchunu was released on bail of just R2,000. During that application, Mchunu claimed that during the violence Cele actually called him and told him to stop people looting.
While Cele may deny this, it suggests that many of the people involved in these events, on all sides, know each other.
In Gauteng, an advocate, Ike Khumalo, was released on bail of R3,000 and denies instigating the violence.
And there can be no doubt of the real origins of the violence.
As SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande put it on Sunday, “The dangerous insurrection emerged from its nesting place within the ANC itself.”
Meanwhile, it has been reported in Daily Maverick that WhatsApp groups including and involving senior ANC members were coordinating and celebrating acts of looting.
There is no evidence so far that the police are investigating these groups.
Then there is the incitement on Twitter.
Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma told looters to “loot responsibly” during the violence. His sister Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla encouraged her Twitter followers to commit violence. Twitter has now taken action against her account for doing so. The JG Zuma Foundation tweeted: “Peace and stability in South Africa is directly linked to the release of President Zuma with immediate effect”.
And yet none of the people responsible for these posts has been arrested, or even, insofar as is known, contacted by police.
The ANC itself has not denied that its members may have been involved. The party’s Head of Presidency, Sibongile Besani, speaking on SAfm during the violence said, “We can’t rule out that some of our members or supporters are in the whole saga; we have had our share of challenges and there are some opportunists who want to hide behind the incarceration of Jacob Zuma.”
And then there is the fact that this was all arranged in clear sight. Everyone interested in politics could see the events that led to this, like the mass gathering at Nkandla the Sunday before Zuma was arrested. The gathering was on TV, as thousands of people, including a Cabinet minister (Lindiwe Sisulu), an ANC NEC member (Tony Yengeni) and the now suspended MKMVA spokesperson Carl Niehaus broke lockdown regulations.
It may be that one of the problems is that ANC leaders are simply unable to call this for what it really was — violence instigated by a faction of their own party.
Again and again, the president, the police minister, the KZN premier and others have spoken about the violence, but have not mentioned the fact this is about an ANC internal fight for power.
While it may appear that this is because they don’t want to damage the name of their own party, it is more complex than that.
The recent language of ANC leaders in KZN around Zuma has demonstrated that this is a major problem for them. Both Premier Sihle Zikalala and KZN ANC Provincial Secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli attended Zuma’s court appearances (before the Constitutional Court ruled he must be jailed) and said they supported him. Twice they were booed by Zuma supporters, who simply do not believe Zikalala and Ntuli really support the former president.
The duo’s attempts at pleasing the crowd show that they must believe Zuma still has a sizeable constituency.
However, the more difficult question to answer may be whether they are behaving in this way for their own interests (in that they don’t want to lose what support Zuma can still muster) or because they genuinely worry that the situation could get out of control. The most likely answer: both.
Before the violence, it might have been easy to say that any claim they were acting in this way because of a fear of violence was simply overblown. It may be harder to say that now.
That said, the problem still remains: if national leaders cannot call it for what it is, can they really solve it?
It should not be forgotten that the failures of the police to solve these problems are not entirely a natural weakness. The evidence that our police service, the Hawks and the criminal justice system have been deliberately and perhaps fatally weakened over the last decade is clear.
It is also clear that this was for political ends, to weaken the rule of law, to allow powerful forces to act with impunity. If the Constitutional Court ruling that a former president can and must be arrested is proof that we are a country under the rule of law, then this violence was a direct response to that. Only time will tell if the country, the ANC (or the dominant faction of it) and the government are up to this challenge. Right now, the prospects look bleak.
The first step in brightening this darkness would be to reject the callousness, to make it clear that no one in South Africa can act with impunity.
No matter what happens, any imaginable future for our country must consider the possibility of the failure of our criminal justice system and its inability to hold those responsible to account. This is certain to happen as long as the ANC fails to look in the mirror and reflect on what it sees.
And yet, what other choice does the ruling party have if South Africa is to avoid sliding into a failed state on its watch? DM