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July unrest: It had nothing to do with hunger or poverty, police minister tells SAHRC

26 February 2022

Police Minister Bheki Cele reiterated the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa when he described the civil unrest that occurred in South Africa in July last year as a "failed insurrection".

The minister was testifying during the last leg of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hearing into the unrest that caused destruction and led to widespread looting in South Africa in July last year.

He told SAHRC provincial manager, advocate Lloyd Lotz, that the attacks during the unrest were hybrid and focused on three things: targeted selection; extensive looting by people from informal settlements near to malls and warehouses; and attacks on important interprovincial arterial roads.

Cele said he believed the attacks were planned, communicated and protested via social media platforms, such as Twitter and open WhatsApp groups.

"Big campaigns were created by crowds to delegitimise police officials and scare them off so that the process of mitigating the unrest would be slowed down," Cele said.

He said he even received a message that came across as a threat directed at the police. The message stated that if police officers who left Emlazi returned to the area, they would not find their wives and children.

Cele saw this as a clear indication that people were not protesting because something needed to be corrected. They wanted to cause destruction instead, he said.

Social media posts called for the destruction of water systems, for the reservoir to be broken down and for the oil line from Durban to Johannesburg to be burst.

But, it didn't end there.

Cele recalled receiving a broadcast message about a call for Pietermaritzburg hospitals to be burnt down. He said he alerted the provincial commissioner about the matter.

The minister added that police stations were almost a point of target because crowds thought they could easily be broken into.

Cele said:
They were adamant on getting guns from the police station and threatened to kill police officials who resisted.

This, according to Cele ultimately proved that the situation had nothing to do with hunger or poverty but everything to do with people who wanted to forcefully and violently change the system.

Cele said Mpumalanga almost became caught up in the unrest when protesters tried to create truck blockades in Ermelo. There were similar attempts in the Eastern Cape and the North West. But the attempts failed because local residents refused to participate.

This, according to Cele, allowed the SAPS to concentrate more on Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

The minister indicated that in the absence of the relevant intelligence reports, police structures went to KZN and engaged with the police and committee structures to gauge the mood and diffuse the tensions.

During the hearing, Cele said that in the midst of crisis, when there were indications of a possible massacre and the death of black people in the Indian community of Phoenix, he engaged directly with the people.

"Elements of criminality, racial issues and the abuse of the legitimate structure of private securities were clear at that time, which then led to many more perpetrators being arrested," Cele added.

Source: News 24

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