South Africa


Bheki Cele: It’s not the minister’s job to arrest people

Bheki Cele: It’s not the minister’s job to arrest people
Unrest and looting during July in Johannesburg and Durban. (Photos: Felix Dlangamandla / Shiraaz Mohamed / Leila Dougan)

The Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster has pledged more arrests in the cases of those who were involved in riots that shook the country a year ago.

Police Minister Bheki Cele says he is not afraid of arresting Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, former president Jacob Zuma’s daughter, but it is not his job to arrest anyone. 

Zuma-Sambudla was among those accused of inciting public violence during the July riots last year. 

Cele was speaking at the JCPS cluster meeting on Friday during which ministers gave feedback on how much work has been done since the expert panel report on the July riots was released earlier this year. 

“The minister of police arrests nobody, the police do, but sometimes I do feel that it would be good to arrest so-and-so but I can’t instruct the police to arrest someone,” said Cele. 

Zuma-Sambudla, who came under fire for supporting and inciting violence on Twitter during the riots, had posted pictures and videos of roads being blocked and property being burnt under the hashtag, #FreeJacobZuma. 

In March, Jean le Roux, a research associate from the Digital Forensic Research Lab, told the South African Human Rights Commission that Zuma-Sambudla had posted celebratory tweets during the July riots. “She would take posts of buildings burning and have a tweet below it saying: ‘Amandla, we see you’,” said Le Roux. 

A year after the riots 

Sporadic unrest started hours after Zuma handed himself over to custody late on July 7 to start a 15-month jail term. He was found guilty of contempt of an order to appear before the Commision of Inquiry into State Capture. 

July 8 marks a year since the riots started. More than 350 people in KZN and Gauteng were killed during the riots, which lasted eight days.

Defence minister makes ‘solemn commitment’

Reflecting on the deaths, Defence Minister Thandi Modise said “our hearts go out to the families that lost their loved ones and to the thousands who were injured”.

Modise said the JCPS ministers have made a “solemn commitment” that the country “should not be subjected to the level of anarchy and destruction we witnessed last year in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng”. 

Modise said 19 people had been arrested for their alleged involvement in the riots. Of those, eight were arrested on suspicion of incitement to commit public violence. 

In a written reply in Parliament, Cele gave the names of the 19 suspected instigators, who were arrested in the Free State, Gauteng and KZN. He said 86 others were still going to be arrested for their involvement in the riots.

In Phoenix outside Durban, 164 cases were investigated, 120 are still under investigation and 69 suspects were arrested for various crimes, said Modise. Thirty-six of these suspects were arrested for their alleged roles in 35 murders, while 31 were arrested for attempted murder.


The panel report on the riots found poor lines of communication between security ministries and political overreach into operational matters. It  recommended adding more capacity for the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the State Security Agency (SSA). 

To address SAPS’s lack of capacity, Modise said the basic police training and development programme had resumed in April 2022, after a two-year pause due to Covid-19. 

Ten thousand trainees are currently undergoing training. They will be deployed to various police stations in December, she said. 

“In responding effectively to public unrest, the capacitation of Public Order Policing has been prioritised. As a result Public Order Police will receive an additional 4,000 members during this financial year,” said Modise. 

The report also recommended bringing stability to SSA by appointing more suitable people. Modise said qualified people had been appointed in leadership positions at the SSA and that briefings and threat assessments were being shared with provincial premiers to determine the necessary response plans.

False information on social media

Modise asked that people refrain from spreading harmful and false information on social media. 

“During the 2021 unrest, social media platforms were used to mobilise members of the community to participate in illegal activities. Before you share information on social media, please ensure that it is truthful and builds the nation,” said Modise.

Earlier this week, Daily Maverick reported that KZN police chief Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi had suggested shutting down social media to quell last year’s civil unrest. DM

Read other articles that form part of our focus on the first anniversary of the July riots:


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Is former prisoner Zuma’s daughter one of the four cases being prepared for prosecution? As to the next insurrection : the organizers should take note of the general public’s resistance and reaction to the mobs. Be it taxi groups or neighborhood watches or security companies or business owners; expect to encounter a counter-revolution that outnumbers you 1000:1

    • Eric de Spot says:

      Well said. We do not need Cele. In fact, as far as I can see he is only the spoke person of the government department he works for.

  • Gazeley Walker says:

    Cele’s job may not be to arrest anyone, but it is his responsibility to oversee an efficient and caring police service. He needs to answer, very clearly, why virtually every community in South Africa where there is rampant crime, the communities spell out how they are being failed by the police. They continually raise the issues of bribes, failure to respond, or respond hours after the event, lack of empathy and in many cases, basic police procedure. All round the country there seems be a fear of retribution if people report crimes to the police, especially in the ganglands and drug infested suburbs. In far too many instances people trying to report crimes at their local police station are dealt with like criminals themselves, ask the many battered women who have not had their cases registered or investigated after calling at a police station. He needs to take off his hat so that he can clearly see that the entire police structure has been severely compromised under his reign as police minister. If he doubts his failure, just look at the recent crime stats. I wonder if he has ever given any thought to a career in the less stressful area of gardening?

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