July ’21 unrest — 65 in dock facing terrorism and other charges linked to deadly violence
Two years after the July 2021 upheaval left a trail of destruction and more than 350 people dead, 65 people arrested and implicated in the mayhem will finally face justice. Among the charges are terrorism, conspiring or inciting the commission of terrorism, sedition, conspiracy to commit murder, public violence, conspiracy to commit public violence and incitement to commit public violence.
The 65 alleged instigators charged in connection with the unrest and public violence in parts of KwaZulu-Natal in July 2021 appeared briefly in the Durban Magistrates’ Court on Friday, 17 November, where they were served with indictments and a summary of facts outlining the charges.
A trial date has been set and the accused will make their first appearance in the Durban High Court on 30 January 2024.
The charges are related to the violent mayhem created by alleged Jacob Zuma loyalists, including the accused, who went on the rampage.
Read more in Daily Maverick: One year ago, South Africa’s darkest eight days in 19 photos
Initial reports were that at least 281 people had been slain, but that was eventually revised to about 350.
On the main charge of terrorism, the State contends that the accused and others protested, conspired and incited the use of violence to campaign for Zuma’s release from prison, which resulted in acts of public violence, looting, disruption of normal activities, loss of life, damage to infrastructure and destruction of businesses and supply chains in and around KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma had been admitted to the Estcourt Correctional Centre to begin a 15-month sentence after being found in contempt of court for disobeying an order of the Constitutional Court that he appear before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.
The charge of conspiracy to commit murder relates to allegations that from 8 July to 15 July 2021, in various places across the country, the accused unlawfully and intentionally conspired with each other and/or other persons, known and unknown to the State, to aid or procure the commission of an offence, to unlawfully and intentionally kill Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Summary of facts
According to court documents, Zuma’s followers, including the accused, were outraged by the Constitutional Court’s order.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ConCourt finds Jacob Zuma guilty of ‘unprecedented’ contempt, seals sanction with 15-month jail sentence
Zuma was implicated in State Capture by more than 40 witnesses in three years of evidence heard by the commission. Zondo instructed the legal team at the inquiry to bring contempt of court charges against Zuma in the Constitutional Court after he failed to appear before the inquiry despite being summoned.
The summary of substantial facts says “several WhatsApp groups were created with the intention of organising, planning, inciting and coordinating violent incidents and looting that occurred mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and sporadically spread to other provinces in the country with the aim of pressuring the authorities to release Zuma”.
The following WhatsApp groups had initially been created and used: Free Zuma Coordinators (later changed to Free Zuma Information, or FZI), Ethekwini Shutdown (ETK) and INK Shutdown (INK).
FZI supposedly gave birth to the ETK and INK groups. According to the State, ETK was established to focus on the Durban City Centre and surrounding areas, while INK focused on Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu.
The accused allegedly joined and participated in the groups by invitation or through an invite link. According to the State, the groups were created and used as a communication tool by the accused and others known and unknown to the State for planning, inciting and carrying out activities such as road blocks, arson and attacks on the judiciary, infrastructure and the economy, thereby engaging in acts of terrorism.
The State contends that between 8 and 15 July 21021, in various locations within the country, the accused, along with others known and unknown to the State, engaged in unlawful and purposeful terrorist conduct by:
- Committing, performing or carrying out, or
- Facilitating, participating or assisting in or contributing to the commission, performance or carrying out of, or
- Performing an act in preparation for or planning of, or
- Instructing, directly or indirectly, a terrorist activity including the
a. Systematic, repeated or arbitrary use of violence, or
b. Endangering the life, or violating the physical integrity or physical freedom or, or causing serious bodily injury to or the death of, any person, or any number of persons, or
c. Causing serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public, or
d. Causing the destruction of substantial damage to any property whether public or private, or
e. Causing serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, or the delivery of such an essential service, facility or system, or
f. Causing any major economic loss or extensive destabilisation of an economic system or substantial devastation of the national economy, or
g. Creating a serious public emergency situation or a general insurrection in the Republic.
This activity was allegedly intended to threaten South Africa’s unity and territorial integrity, intimidate, or to induce or cause feelings of insecurity within the public or a segment of the public, or to induce, cause or spread feelings of terror, fear or panic in a civilian population.
The first terrorist sentenced in democratic South Africa was right-wing extremist Harry Knoesen, who plotted a bloody coup and the genocide of black people in South Africa in November 2019. For terrorism-related offences he received two life sentences and 21 years in prison.
Other people convicted and sentenced so far in connection with the July 2021 unrest are:
- Five convicted looters were sentenced in the Durban Regional Court. In June 2023 they were found guilty of being in possession of R80,000 worth of meat in their bakkie in the Chesterville township during the riots. The meat had been stolen from nearby Ayoba Cold Storage, which stored meat imported from Brazil;
- In July 2023, the Durban Magistrates’ Court sentenced Mbuso Moloi (32) to three years. He was dubbed the “Mercedes looter” after a video of him carrying goods taken from a Woolworths store in Glenwood, Durban, went viral;
- In August 2022, the Durban Magistrates’ Court sentenced Sihle Jali (41) and Sifiso Ngcobo (29) for their role in breaking into a shop in Durban’s Greenwood Park and stealing goods. They were charged with public violence and sentenced to five years in jail; and
- In September 2022, Njabulo Ncube, another convicted July 2021 looter, was sentenced to an effective eight years’ imprisonment. He had been found guilty of housebreaking with intent to steal, and theft. He and a group of others broke into a shop in Umbilo and stole groceries. DM