July unrest: Security services failed to protect life, limb and property

The ANC’s inner conflict is a threat to state stability.
There was ‘a sense of deep bewilderment at the absence of the police’ as ‘one mall after another was destroyed’. Image: Kierran Allen/via Reuters

The long-awaited report on South Africa’s preparedness and shortcomings in responding to the July 2021 insurrection, looting and unrest came up with some obvious findings and questions around why “the government and security forces were not able to anticipate and prevent the widespread violence”.

The report was produced by a panel comprising chair Professor Sandy Africa, Advocate Mojankunyane Gumbi and Silumko Sokupa. The panel carried out a fact-finding review, and not an inquisitorial process.

The panel unequivocally found that the response by the security services was not timeous, appropriate and sufficient; that the security services failed to “protect life, limb and property”; and that the executive carries some of the blame and must take responsibility for its lapse of leadership.


Parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng exploded in violence between July 8 and 17, 2021.

Some 354 people died, and thousands were injured.

Managers of looted and destroyed shopping malls watched previously “friendly visitors to the management offices become part of the ravaging mobs”.

“There was also a sense of deep bewilderment at the absence of the police at a time when communities needed them most … one mall after another was destroyed.”


The damage cost the economy some R50 billion. For those who lost family members, jobs and livelihoods, the damage is incalculable.

Many believe the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma “ignited the orgy of violence that followed”. The night following his arrest, July 9, 2021, “a number of trucks and cars were torched on the [N3] at Mooi River Plaza”.

Criminal elements took advantage of the violence, for example where high value goods such as solar panels were targeted.

Multiple crises and challenges facing South Africa

The report discusses the many challenges in South Africa, including:

  • The weakness of state institutions;
  • High unemployment;
  • Inherited high levels of poverty and deep inequality;
  • Poor spatial planning, overcrowded and unsuitable living conditions;
  • Rampant corruption at various levels of government;
  • State capture; and
  • That “the violent unrest took place in the shadow of a State of Disaster” that was implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and “South Africans were already experiencing considerable hardship at the time”.

On the failure of the police

  • The police were taken by surprise;
  • They were inadequately equipped and ran out of crowd control equipment; and
  • They were overwhelmed by the number of looters.

“The police mentioned that there was inadequate intelligence gathering [that] targeted persons promoting violence, if they happened to be associated with certain political parties.”

Excuses were given for slow reaction, “poor lighting, overpopulated human settlements, a lack of proper road infrastructure …”

This does not explain how malls and warehouses went up in flames.

“In a nutshell, the Minister and the National Commissioner are poles apart in their interpretation of how the events of July could have been managed, if at all.”

The panel’s recommendations

The recommendations include that:

  • A national early warning capability is established;
  • Those accused of criminal conduct be held accountable;
  • Internal disciplinary processes be expedited;
  • The president draw up a national security strategy;
  • The appropriateness of certain policies be evaluated according to current challenges;
  • The policy relating to community patrols in support of anti-crime operations be refined (the report notes the risk of armed community patrols swiftly moving to vigilantism);
  • Policy pronouncements on the responsibilities and powers of the police be streamlined;
  • National key points, or “critical infrastructure”, be reviewed;
  • Either the Disaster Management Act be revised to deal adequately with mass violent events, or the State of Emergency Act regulations be revised to deal with emergencies of all kinds, including terror attacks, insurrections, major disruption of critical infrastructure, and cyberattacks; and
  • The meaning of “emergency” in a democracy, and in the context of the emerging challenges to South Africa’s democracy, may need to be “broadened”.

Recommendations and observations of other parties

The Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority:

  • Received countless calls from security service providers (SSPs) asking them to contact police management and ministers to request that they allow SSPs to assist in defending infrastructure under attack. They were prepared to play a bigger role beyond just fulfilling the mandates of their direct clients.
  • Is of the view that if there was better coordination between them and the South African Police Service (SAPS) it could have mitigated the extent of the unrest and violence.
  • Suggests that “trained officers could be harnessed to assist the SAPS to uphold the rule of law”.

Organised business and business leaders:

  • Say the events were well planned, and the violence was a targeted attack on the food and critical goods supply chain, primary bulk infrastructure, Transnet infrastructure, the electronic systems in trucks, CCTV cameras and fire-fighting equipment.
  • Recommend a strong and effective partnership between business and government to enable safe spaces for businesses to operate within.
  • Say government should be transparent and provide a “clearly articulated analysis of why the insurrection took place”.
  • Strategic distribution centres must be allocated “national key point” status. These include fuel pipelines, water treatment plants, specific chemical facilities and others. Clear criteria and prioritisation lists must be established for the deployment of forces to specific national key points.
  • Are of the view that the inner conflict within a political party has now become a threat to the stability of the state.

The South African Special Risk Insurance Association (Sasria) admitted that it was not prepared for the events that took place – and is not sure why, as it does have a risk analysis programme.

Civil society organisations observed that the “culture of violence and criminality within the ruling party” is “having a negative impact on communities” and has “to be brought under control”.

Representatives of think tanks believe the violence was “an insurrection or semi-insurrection against the state and a popular uprising (revolt) of destitute people”.

Criminals and opportunistic groups directed people to “easy targets such as malls and warehouses”.

An organisation engaged in humanitarian work spoke of the “palpable fear” still present in the affected communities, the business sector and among the public in general … and “the narrative of a lawless country with a government that is not in charge of its police and other security structures would harm the country locally and abroad”.

The panel did not come up with any ground-breaking new information.

Of prime importance is how President Cyril Ramaphosa will react. If at all.

Recommended reading: Eight Days in July – Inside the Zuma Unrest that Set South Africa Alight by Qaanitah Hunter, Kaveel Singh and Jeff Wicks (Tafelberg Publishers, October 2021).



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For the first 2 days the police were not to be seen anywhere close to what was happening!!
Whether out of fear or because of orders remain to be decided.
All the other excuses are mere smokescreens.
True – Marikana totally paralysed any forceful responses to large scale criminality !!
The masses have learnt of the police ineptitude and they will be back!!

End of comments.




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