Police, intelligence failed to stop July unrest - but executive also to blame, report finds

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People fleeing from police as they carry goods while looting and vandalising the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, East of Johannesburg.
People fleeing from police as they carry goods while looting and vandalising the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, East of Johannesburg.
PHOTO: Phill Magakoe/AFP
  • A panel of experts appointed to investigate the July 2021 riots found that police were overwhelmed and overstretched.
  • Officers were taken by surprise and could not adequately respond to the riots.
  • On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the release of the panel's report.

The response by the police and intelligence services to the July unrest was inadequate and insufficient.

This is according to a panel of experts appointed to probe the reasons behind the July 2021 unrest. On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the release of the report by the panel led by Professor Sandy Africa.

"The police failed to stop the rioting and looting in July 2021. The reasons for this failure are complex and sometimes not of their making. In some instances, they did not get any intelligence upon which to plan operations," the report read.

It continued: 

It is not clear why this was so, but one of the reasons may be that at least six members of the senior leadership of CI (Crime Intelligence) were suspended in the period leading up to the outbreak of the violence. It would be difficult for an organisation that had been hollowed out in that manner to rise to the occasion in times of crisis.

The panel found that the unrest took the police, who were inadequately prepared, by surprise, leaving them flatfooted, and with "crowd control equipment" running dry, they could not adapt their tactics.

The panel found that there had been a failure of the relevant state institutions to conduct timely risk assessments, despite the constant attacks on the authority of the state by some individuals and organisations.

It further found that there was a significant intelligence failure to anticipate, prevent or disrupt the planned and orchestrated violence.

SAPS officers stopping looters in central Durban
SAPS officers stop looters from looting in central Durban.

"The intelligence appreciation and interpretation of what was building up happened too late, if at all; and as a result, the security services failed to put in place the necessary interventions to detect and disrupt the plans."

The report was scathing of Ramaphosa's executive, stating the lines between the executive authorities and the security services seemed blurred.

"Dysfunctional relationships between ministers and their senior leadership teams in the departments in some cases impeded synergy in the flow of intelligence which affected decision-making," the report noted.

"Mr. President, you asked us to determine whether the response by the security services was timeous, appropriate and sufficient. The answer to that, in respect of the police and the intelligence services, is an unequivocal no. Many reasons were proffered for this failure, but in the end the response remains that they failed to do the necessary to protect life, limb and property. The reasons are set out in the body of our report. The Executive, however, carries some of the blame too and must take responsibility for its lapse of leadership," the report read.

Ramaphosa is expected to outline his course of action in his State of the Nation Address.

This is a developing story.

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