ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA ON ACTS OF VIOLENCE AND DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY
My Fellow South Africans, I address you this evening with a heavy heart.
Over the past few days and nights, there have been acts of public violence of a kind rarely seen in the history of our democracy. Property has been vandalised and destroyed. Shops have been looted. Law-abiding citizens have been threatened and intimidated. Workers are scared that they may not be able to return to work.
People have died. At this hour, there are several families in our country that are in mourning. I speak of the families of Nkosikhona Chiza, Ndumiso Shezi, Khaya Mkhize, Zethembe Ndwandwe, Lindani Bhengu and Lindokuhle Gumede in Gauteng. I speak of the families of Bhekani Ndlovu, Themba Mthembu, Aphiwe Gama and Cebo Dlamini in KwaZulu-Natal. Even as we know the high cost of this violence to property, to livelihoods and to businesses, the loss of human life is the greatest cost of all.
As a nation our thoughts and prayers are with these families. Many South Africans are at this hour counting the cost to their livelihoods and property, to their shops and businesses, to their safety and security. Many more South Africans are feeling anxious and afraid. Parts of the country are reeling from several days and nights of public violence, destruction of property and looting of the sort rarely seen before in the history of our democracy.
It started with the burning of trucks at Mooi River in KwaZulu-Natal this past Saturday and was followed by blockades of roads in the northern parts of the province and the looting of shops in Ethekwini and Pietermaritzburg. For the past two days, Gauteng has experienced the blocking of roads, looting, damage to property and burning of trucks.
Thanks to the work of our law enforcement agencies 166 suspects have been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal and 323 suspects had been arrested in Gauteng in relation to these incidents. Nevertheless, violence is continuing in many areas.
Some have characterised these actions as a form of political protest. This violence may indeed have its roots in the pronouncements and activities of individuals with a political purpose, and in expressions of frustration and anger.
At the beginning of this unrest, there may have been some people who sought to agitate for violence and disorder along ethnic lines. We know that the majority of our people have out of principle refused to be mobilised along these lines. However, what we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft. There is no grievance, nor any political cause, that can justify the violence and destruction that we have seen in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Our Constitution guarantees the right of every person to protest, to organise, to engage in free expression and free association. It gives every person an equal right to protection before the law, and confers on every person a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of others. Our Constitution is the foundation of the rule of law in our country. It is this rule of law that guards against the abuse of power, that protects the poor and the vulnerable, that enables our society to function and our economy to develop.
The victims of the violence that is unfolding now – the workers, the truck drivers, the business owners, the parents and families of those who have lost their lives – have done nothing wrong. Although these may be opportunistic acts of looting driven by hardship and poverty, the poor and marginalised bear the ultimate brunt of the destruction. Shops have been looted and infrastructure destroyed. This means that our sick cannot get medication from pharmacies, food does not reach supermarket shelves, and health workers cannot go to work.
Our vaccination programme has been severely disrupted just as it is gaining momentum. This will have lasting effects on our ability to consolidate some of the progress we were already witnessing in our economic recovery. These disruptions will cost lives by cutting off the supply chains that sustain our food, health and production systems.
The path of violence, of looting and anarchy, leads only to more violence and devastation. It leads to more poverty, more unemployment, and more loss of innocent life. This is not who we are as a people. Time and time again, we have chosen a different path, a path of peace and democracy. We have chosen to pursue dialogue and protest rather than violence and chaos.
Each of us, no matter our position or our circumstances, has an interest in maintaining and upholding the rule of law. It is therefore a matter of vital importance that we restore calm and stability to all parts of the country without delay. It is vital that we prevent any further loss of life or injury. It is vital that we protect property and safeguard social and economic infrastructure.
We are therefore mobilising all available resources and capabilities to restore order.
As the Commander-in-Chief of the South African Defence Force, I have today authorised the deployment of Defence Force personnel in support of the operations of the South African Police Service.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure – known as NatJOINTS – has intensified deployments in all the affected areas in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The South African Police Service is putting measures in place to call up operational members from leave and rest-days to increase the presence of law enforcement personnel on the ground. The NatJOINTS is receiving support from the Intelligence Coordinating Committee, comprising of SAPS Crime Intelligence, Defence Intelligence and State Security. In addition to greater visibility and an intelligence-driven presence in potential hotspots, we will be prioritising the prosecution of suspects alleged to be involved in this violence. The National Security Council, which I chair as Commander-in-Chief, will be meeting twice a day to coordinate all measures necessary to restore stability.
Let me be clear: we will take action to protect every person in this country against the threat of violence, intimidation, theft and looting. We will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute those who perpetrate these actions and will ensure that they face the full might of our law. We will restore calm and order so that we can get on with the task of rebuilding this country and creating a better life for its people. The passage of time has not erased from our memories the dark days when sinister elements stoked the flames of violence in our communities to try and turn us against each other. We live with these memories still.
But we also remember that as we were preparing for democratic change – we came together as a society to end the violence that was rampant in many communities. As we confront this challenge, we should remember how – at another time in our history, as we were preparing for democratic change – we came together as a society to end the violence that was rampant in many communities. We came together – as religious leaders, traditional leaders, trade unions, businesses, community organisations, political parties, NGOs and others – to bring peace to our nation.
Now we need to come together again, for each of us to play our part in restoring calm to those areas that have been affected by violence; for each of us to stand up for the rule of law and for the peaceful resolution of conflict.
This afternoon, Ministers and senior officials in the economic and the security clusters met with Business Unity South Africa to take stock of the situation and to develop coordinated actions. We have agreed to work together to ensure the safety of drivers, cashiers, patients and customers. We have agreed to share information and resources to ensure that we restore key supply chains. We are making arrangements for government leaders and public representatives as part of their responsibilities to meet with leaders in various communities to promote stability. As part of our ongoing engagement with key sectors of society, I will be meeting with leaders of political parties to discuss the current situation.
We are called upon – wherever we may be – to remain calm, to exercise restraint, and to resist any attempts to incite violence, create panic or fuel divisions.
Whether we are leaders of political parties, taxi associations, business organisations or unions, we need to do everything in our means to calm the situation. We should refrain from posting and circulating inflammatory messages on social media, and from spreading rumours or false reports that may create further panic.
No-one should take the law into their own hands. Rather, we should join those individuals and communities who are working with the police to prevent looting, and those members of the public who have provided tip-offs and information about instances of criminality.
I wish to thank all operational members and commanders of the SAPS and other agencies for their response to acts of violence and provocation, which has helped to avert bloodshed and limit the loss of lives. We extend our best wishes for a speedy recovery to the four SAPS members injured during this violence: Constable Sangweni, who was shot and injured in Alexandra; his two colleagues, Sergeant Maraheni and Lieutenant Colonel Nefolovhodwe, who were hit with bricks; and Constable Seloane, who was shot and injured in Daveyton.
Fellow South Africans, this violence and destruction takes place in the midst of a devastating pandemic. There is a danger that these events will lead to an even greater surge in infections, putting many more lives at risk and placing a greater burden on our health facilities and personnel. There is a danger that our vaccination programme will be disrupted in some areas just as we need to significantly expand its reach. We cannot allow this to happen. We will not allow this to happen.
This moment has thrown into stark relief what we already knew: that the level of unemployment, poverty and inequality in our society is unsustainable. We cannot expect a lasting and durable peace if we do not create jobs and build a more just and equitable society in which all South Africans can participate freely and equally. We must therefore commit ourselves not only to peace, but to greater economic opportunity for all.
We are emerging now from a long period of uncertainty and stagnation. We have witnessed the effects of corruption and the erosion of the state, the terrible consequences of the abuse of power and neglect of duty. We have begun a process of healing, reconstruction and renewal. We have set our country on a path of progress and recovery. We cannot allow a few people among us to threaten this collective effort.
We will protect our constitutional democracy, so that we can consolidate our gains. We will reject violence and chaos, so that can move forward. Let me repeat: we are building up, not shutting down. We will not be deterred, as South Africans, from the task ahead of us.
We are faced, as we have been faced many times before, with a moment of great challenge and great promise. Let us choose the path of peace and renewal. Let us stand firm and emerge stronger. Together, we will defeat those who seek to destabilise our country, who seek to reverse the gains we have made.
We will stand as one people, united against violence, unanimous in our commitment to peace and to the rule of law. I thank you