Ramaphosa pledges measures to strengthen S Africa security agencies

A member of the South African Police Services shoots rubber bullets to disperse a crowd looting at a warehouse storing alcohol in Durban on July 16th, 2021. Photograph: Guillem Sartorio/AFP

A damning report on the deadly civil unrest in two South African provinces last year has prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to make sweeping “leadership changes” in the country’s security agencies.

During his annual state-of-the-nation address on Thursday, Mr Ramaphosa said the investigation into the violence and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in July painted a “deeply disturbing” picture of the security services and their co-ordinating structures.

Released on Monday, the report commissioned by South Africa’s president concluded that the government’s initial handling of the events was inept, police operational planning was inadequate and there was poor co-ordination between the state security and intelligence services.

The Report of the Expert Panel into the July 2021 Civil Unrest stated it was hard for its investigators to pinpoint exactly why the co-ordination between the government’s security structures was so poor, but it did offer up a few potential reasons for it.

Crime intelligence

Of concern, said the report, was that government ministers appeared to differ on the nature of what was unfolding in the first days of the unrest, which started on July 9th and lasted a week.

In addition, it stated that at least six senior crime intelligence leaders had been suspended in the period leading up to the violence. “It would be difficult for an organisation that had been hollowed out in that manner to rise to the occasion in times of crisis,” it said.

In terms of what was behind the unrest, the report said the ruling African National Congress’s factional battles were a serious source of instability in the country, as was the endemic poverty affecting millions of its citizens.

At least 342 people were killed in the riots, which began shortly after former president Jacob Zuma was jailed for being in contempt of a ruling made by South Africa’s constitutional court. A majority of the victims came from KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Zuma’s home province.

Civil unrest

The investigators concluded that ultimately Mr Ramaphosa’s cabinet had to take overall responsibility for the civil unrest.

Mr Ramaphosa said that, in response to the report’s findings, his government would fill critical vacancies and address positions affected by suspensions in the State Security Agency and crime intelligence division of the South African Police Services.

“We will also soon be announcing leadership changes in a number of security agencies to strengthen our security structures,” he said.

Resources would also be made available, he said, to recruit and train at least 12,000 new police officers, who would be deployed to beef up the South African Police Service’s public order units.