Defend Truth


State lacks the political will or capacity to act decisively in the aftermath of July unrest


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

More and more people are starting to wonder if the state has the political will and capacity to act against the traitors in our midst. There is rapidly growing concern about how the state is responding to the aftermath of the riots and sabotage that rocked KwaZulu-Natal in July.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.


Large numbers of people who are alleged to have participated in the bread riots, the bulk of whom are not aligned to Jacob Zuma, have had their homes searched, and there have been many arrests.

At least one person, Zamekile Shangase, has been shot dead during the “Show Your Receipt” police raids.

There have also been arrests relating to the vigilante murders in Phoenix, and several people have been arrested for making inflammatory social media posts. But there does not appear to be any systematic process of investigating and arresting the people in and linked to ANC structures who organised the campaign of sabotage.

This is cause for serious concern. People are asking if the state is preferring to focus on poor people who do not have receipts for food in their homes and a handful of the many people that made reckless public comments during the crisis because it does not have the political will to take on the forces within the ANC that organised that campaign of sabotage. Some are now arguing that with the ANC in KZN divided from top to bottom, the Ramaphosa faction feels that acting against people in the ANC who engaged in treason is too risky. Others are asking if Cyril Ramaphosa lacks control over the security cluster and if some are, in fact, aligned to the kleptocratic forces.

Both of these scenarios are deeply worrying. If the state cannot identify and arrest the people who burnt trucks, warehouses and malls and attacked infrastructure such as substations, water reservoirs and cellphone towers, it will be effectively granting impunity for treason.

A second but equally urgent concern is that we still do not know how the bulk of the people who lost their lives during the riots and sabotage died. The state has given detailed information about the killings in Phoenix but has largely been silent on the rest of the hundreds of deaths. Some are starting to ask if this is because a large number of these people may have been killed by the state. Without clear information rumours will proliferate, and it is vital that the public is given a detailed account of what happened.

The chaos that rocked parts of the country in July was a historical turning point.

It showed both that the patience of the poor will not be permanent and that the kleptocratic faction of the ANC is willing to engage in wanton destruction at huge economic and social cost to protect its access to wealth and power.

The extension of the Covid grant in the wake of the riots is some sort of acknowledgement that there needs to be a real commitment to interclass social solidarity. It is too little, and it came too late to avoid disaster, but it is potentially a step in the right direction. But when it comes to the urgent need to deal directly with those who engaged in open treason the ANC is either flatfooted or compromised.

If a foreign power had undertaken a similar campaign of sabotage, war would have been declared and all the resources of the state thrown into apprehending the perpetrators. But, instead, there is silence while easy targets, most of whom do not even support Zuma, face harassment and arrest. And though the arrest of people who called for criminal actions in support of Zuma on social media is welcome, it is notable that members of Zuma’s family have not been targeted. Again, it seems that the state lacks the political will or capacity to act decisively.

Ramaphosa needs to come clean with us and answer two urgent questions: Exactly how did all those people die in the riots? Why is there so little action against the people who organised the campaign of sabotage in the midst of the riots? DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Absolutely agree with you- it is both worrying and disgraceful that the state has not, despite all its promises, acted against the instigators of the rioting and violence and targeting of public resources. Is it because everything is too close to the heart of the ANC and it cannot rip that out?

  • James Miller says:

    100%. However destructive and costly the insurrection has been, to lives, property and jobs, that will pale into insignificance compared to the damage it will do to the credibility of the State if the response is weak and ineffectual. The State is either capable or failing, and there is no in-between.

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    Jip I agree but surely the response from all should be to focus on winning votes for non governing parties. We can moan & groan it will make no difference start campaigning believe in democracy

  • Charles Parr says:

    Your last paragraph hits the nail on the head.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    If President Ramaphosa was serious about saving South Africa, rather than putting the ANC ahead of the citizens – again, the July insurrection was exactly the catalyst he needed to act boldly. He could have removed the incompetent and dishonest members of his cabinet and ensured the arrest of traitors within his own party. (Strangely, that action would have been very good for his party.) Unfortunately, he did neither; instead, he shuffled the incompetent cabinet ministers around and promoted the one who publicly contradicted him to Speaker of the National Assembly. Bheki Cele proved his worth by rushing around arresting all those who were overzealous in protecting themselves during the violence. I believe this was a weak attempt to deflect attention away from the fact that he was avoiding the real issue – Those who organised the insurrection. The ANC admires China, but the Chinese government would already have shot the organisers. But “shame” how can we ask a loyal cadre to arrest his “comrades?” So much for an oath of office.

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