'Beautiful, beautiful job': Cele praises police for role during unrest, but no word on intelligence

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Police Minister, Bheki Cele, during a visit to Sea Cow Lake in Durban after looting and unrest.
Police Minister, Bheki Cele, during a visit to Sea Cow Lake in Durban after looting and unrest.
Gallo Images/Darren Stewart
  • Minister Bheki Cele has thanked the police for their "beautiful job" during the unrest.
  • He did not say a word about whether he had received intelligence reports.
  • Most opposition MPs raised the matter of intelligence during the unrest.

Police Minister Bheki Cele has thanked the police for the "beautiful job" they have done during the recent unrest, which saw wanton looting and destruction of property and led to more than 300 deaths in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Cele also revealed that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate was investigating cases of police officers being involved in the unrest - 74 in KwaZulu-Natal and 13 in Gauteng.

However, he did not address a point raised by most opposition speakers on Tuesday when the National Assembly debated the oversight reports of the portfolio committees on defence, police, and home affairs which visited affected areas in the unrest's aftermath.

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This point, central to the dissection of the events, is whether he had received intelligence and, if he did, why he didn't act on it.

On 20 July, Cele rejected former state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo's earlier claims that the State Security Agency (SSA) had given intelligence reports on the unrest to the police, when he addressed a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and the Portfolio Committee on Police during their oversight visit to Chatsworth, Durban.

When asked why police had failed to act on intelligence it received, Cele told MPs that he had not signed for any intelligence report from the SSA.

Dlodlo told News24 on the same day that intelligence reports were always shared with relevant structures, not people.

AS IT HAPPENED | No signs of unrest as law enforcement remain on high alert

More than a month later, government hasn't provided any clarity on this matter, which remains one of the most vexing questions about the unrest. This was evident in the speeches of the opposition.

DA MP Ockert Terblanche described the intelligence failures as "shocking" and said Cele should come clean on whether or not he received intelligence reports.

EFF MP Tseko Mafanya said Cele received an intelligence report but did not act on it.

IFP MP Zandile Majozi said the contradicting reports on whether Cele had intelligence were unacceptable.

FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said:

It is clear that the intelligence structures failed the people of South Africa.

"The fact of the matter is, whether the intelligence was available or not, it was not used."

No ANC participant in the debate, including Cele, addressed the matter of intelligence, except recently appointed Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise. 

"I'm in no way saying that the ministers knew or did not know. I was not there. But what I do know is that the security cluster must always be at the top of its game to make sure that we do not get these stones that are coming into the cluster," she said.

'TV goes where there is trouble'

Several opposition MPs also pointed out that the unrest was the result of the ANC's internal battles. Again, Modise was the only ANC participant who addressed this matter.

"Honourable members have said that this riot, this insurrection, whatever you want to call it, this thing that happened, was because the governing party was in disarray. It does not matter which side felt how hurt or challenged, it is still illegal. And it must still be treated as an illegal and treasonous act to subject South Africans to what we have just been subjected to," she said.

Opposition MPs also questioned why the instigators of the unrest had not been arrested. Cele said 16 instigators had been arrested and were going through the court process. He didn't mention any names or clarify whether these included the 12 instigators Cele had referred to earlier.

ALSO READ | GOOD party gives police 'explosive evidence' of ANC members involved in instigating unrest

Taking issue with ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe questioning where the police were during the looting, Cele said: "The problem about you not seeing the police is because we don't own TV to show the police. TV goes where there is trouble, they don't go where there is peace." 

He said many shops and infrastructure were still standing because the police worked with communities.

"Things that you did not see, it does not mean that they did not happen.

He said:

I want to stand here and thank the police for the beautiful, beautiful job they did, the protection of property, the protection of individuals and then pass the condolences to the families where that have lost their lives.

Cele added that the people killed in Phoenix had been killed for one reason only – that they were black. Mafanya blamed President Cyril Ramaphosa for the killing of black people in Phoenix, and others blamed Cele for stoking racial fires to divert from the police's failings.

The deployment of the South African National Defence Force was generally welcomed and lauded as helping to bring about stability, except by the EFF, with Mafanya saying this was an indication of Ramaphosa's cowardice.

Modise agreed that SANDF soldiers were not trained for police work, but said they acted to support the police, who take the lead in operations. She said it was perhaps time to relook at the structures, with the eye on an intermediary force that was something between the police and army and that could be deployed quickly. She said France has such a force.

'It's a bit bright for him'

DA MP Kobus Marais referred to former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula contradicting Ramaphosa on whether it was a "failed insurrection", as the president had put it.

"The public differences between the president and the minister of defence created the impression that they relied on opposing intel sources. Their public repudiation of each other was embarrassing and the sign of a broken government," he said.

"How is it possible that the president and his defence minister has such a public difference of the characteristics of the dangers and threats we were facing? Both should be held accountable for the dereliction of the constitutional duties and responsibilities."

ALSO READ | #UnrestSA: Parliament to hold inquiry into alleged intelligence service failures

On 5 August, Ramaphosa fired Mapisa-Nqakula, appointing former speaker Modise in her stead. Last Thursday, Mapisa-Nqakula was elected speaker. She did not preside over Tuesday's plenary, the first since her election. Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli presided over the first debate.

During the second debate, on the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry's oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal, which followed a similar vein, house chairperson Madala Ntombela sent out DA MP Dean Macpherson, who raised a point of order when ANC MP Zolile Burns-Ncamashe took his stand behind the podium wearing sunglasses.

"Chair, I'm just wondering if you can turn the lights down for the honourable Burns. It's a bit bright in here for him," Macpherson said.

Macpherson and DA MP Chris Hunsinger asked in terms of what rule Ntombela had ordered his removal. Macpherson could also be seen talking to the presiding officer in the chamber, ANC MP Mina Lesoma and the table staff. When he left, the DA MPs left with him.

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