July riots a year on…nothing to report

By Michael Appel

Embattled Police Minister Bheki Cele says the cases against 17 “instigators” of the July riots are before the courts, while the Hawks have their eyes on another “86 people of interest”.

There are no prominent names worth mentioning among them, leading many South Africans to believe that the true instigators remain free, cocooned by a fractured and divided governing party intent on unity above all else.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise told a Pretoria press briefing: “Whoever is behind the events of last year, it must be very clear that we will not rest. We don’t care who it is, they will face what they must face. There will not be short cuts. Sometimes when you want to deal with issues you rush because there is public pressure. But sometimes in the rush you create blunders and people who should face prosecution spring away.

“Yes, we regret that this has been a little bit slow but the investigations must continue. People must answer. The mastermind. The spreader of [fake] news. The organiser. That person who says ‘put the fire there’…that is the person we are interested in.”

It’s exactly a year since KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng were burnt and looted to a vicious standstill, wiping R50bn off South Africa’s books and snuffing out the lives of over 350 people. This time last year former President Jacob Zuma had just handed himself over to prison authorities after the country’s apex court sentenced him to 15 months for contempt. He refused to return to testify before the State Capture Inquiry and even neglected to participate in the contempt proceedings the commission lodged against him before the Constitutional Court. Today Zuma and his army of mouthpieces claim he was unlawfully “jailed without a trial”.

The day after Zuma handed himself over to authorities, all hell broke loose in KZN as waves of looters, hellbent on reversing the pinching socio-economic circumstances befalling them one trolley-full at a time, spread across that province and later into Gauteng. Those tasked with pre-empting and preventing such unbridled destruction of the country, the Crime intelligence and the State Security Agency (SSA), had failed in their mandates.

Opening statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa before the SAHRC Investigative Hearing into the July 2021 Unrest. Image Credit: @PresidencyZA on Twitter

At the time President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation: “The events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, co-ordinated, and well-planned attack on our democracy … intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken – or even dislodge – the democratic state.”

In the aftermath, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was tasked with investigating one of the most sordid periods in our democratic history. Ramaphosa was asked upfront whether he had received any intelligence report that spoke of the potential mayhem to come. His response: “What we had gleaned from some of the [intelligence] reports was that there were protests, signs of unhappiness – particularly over the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma – but none of what happened was foreseen. That never surfaced in any of the reports … it never got to a warning of the scale of the devastation that finally ensued. I am yet to see a report that says this is what we knew, and this is how it was going to unfold. It would have had to say, ‘These are the planners, this is what they intend to hit’… now that was not forthcoming.”

On the issue of whether, as the SAHRC’s expert panel found, factionalism within the ANC had contributed to the unrest, Ramaphosa reached into his bag of answers from his time at the Zondo Commission.

“Through a process of renewing the party, making sure the party is properly repositioned and rebuilt to the point where we do not ever use state resources to fight internal battles within the governing party. I see positive signs that are emerging. Processes such as the Zondo Commission have helped a great deal to shine a light on the malfeasance. Rather than be more negatively disposed, we are beginning to move to a more positive milieu where we can say factionalism is being eradicated in state security apparatus. State security will now only act in the interests of the people of South Africa,” he said.

While South Africa continues to count the cost of the July unrest, this week, blockades and sporadic looting erupted in Mpumalanga. In KZN, trucks similarly blocked routes, reportedly spurred on by outrage over the ever-increasing fuel prices in the country. #NationalShutDown continues to trend on Twitter.

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