No directive to stand down - KZN police commissioner on July unrest

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  • Rumours about an order for police to stand down during the July unrest was untrue.
  • KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi continued giving evidence on Wednesday before the Human Rights Commission's public hearings. 
  • Mkhwanazi said police, instead, worked around the clock and were under severe strain to restore peace.

KwaZulu-Natal's top cop on Wednesday told the South African Human Rights commission hearing into the deadly July unrest, that there had been no directive to stand down.

Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi continued his testimony before the South African Human Rights commission hearing into the deadly July unrest.

Mkhwanazi and deputy provincial commissioner for visible policing, Major-General Phumelele Makhoba were both set to continue their testimony after they initially took the stand on Tuesday.

When asked what he did about the illegal barricades erected in Phoenix, Mkhwanazi said he felt their was an immediate need to deploy more resources to the area, which he went on to do.

Mkhwananzi said in some instances, people would flee from the barricades when the police approached.

Mkhwanazi said officers managed to arrest some of those alleged to have set up and manned the barricades.

According to Mkhwanazi there were barricades set up throughout the province, not just in Phoenix.

"Many were warned to remove these barricades, which they did," he added.

During his testimony on Tuesday, Mkhwanazi denied accusations that there was an order for police to stand down during the July unrest. 

"Members had to sacrifice despite the threats against their families. What was circulating was attacks planned on police stations and the families of police to prevent them from working. The members stood fast and tried to salvage what they could protect. There was no directive to stand down," he told the South African Human Rights commission hearing into the July unrest on Tuesday.

READ | Top brass had to self-isolate as July unrest unfolded, says KZN police commissioner

Mkhwanazi said that immediately after the Constitutional Court judgment that sentenced former President Jacob Zuma to 15 months imprisonment, police noticed a large gathering of media houses at the Nkandla homestead, "camping there day and night". 

"You switch on a television in the morning, commentators saying it is good or bad. Some South Africans questioned how do you sentence a person without a trial. These debates were encouraged by the media in public platforms and allows every other person to share their views."

The mood began to change, he said, as supporters of the former president grew angrier. 

"It worried us. The focus triggered anger to many citizens, especially in this province."

Mkhwanazi said that as early as 2 July, he wrote a letter to the police head office requesting additional resources. 

"This is us assessing what is happening in the media and social media and the like. We saw something big might be happening and we started developing a contingency plan and resources."

The first group of police were deployed the following day on 3 July. He said that by 4 July police noticed large gatherings in Nkandla and continued until 7 July when Zuma went to prison. 

He said:

The main criminal offence was that of the disaster management regulations in terms of gatherings. We could assess the mood in relation to the gatherings. We knew if we were to act harshly, we would direct their anger [Zuma supporters] back at the police. As long as the crowds are forming not endangering anyone's lives, it was fine.

He said the presence of the media at the former president's home created an atmosphere in the province "where people got excited". 

"On social media, people comment on media platforms [about] the correctness of the decision taken by courts. The mood was changing in the province, and we realised we were going to have a problem if he has to go to prison, though we did not expect anything to spread beyond Nkandla and to other provinces."

LIVE | Police had no experience arresting a former president - Mkhwanazi

Mkhwanazi said they engaged crime intelligence and police shortly afterwards began seeing barricades and blockages on the N2 near Eshowe in northern KwaZulu-Natal. 

"We did not understand what is going on, what are they going to destroy next? We felt national key points might be a target and felt that we had to protect them. We started hearing the voice notes, how to remove number plates, make petrol bombs, maybe it was not planned, but someone came up with the idea; the looting chaos and looting commenced on 9 July."

Mkhwanazi will continue his testimony on Wednesday afternoon.

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