‘Warning signs were all there’ ahead of July civil unrest, says Lamola

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola says the warning signs of things to come were all there, ahead of former President Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment last year, triggering the deadly July civil unrest that engulfed parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. .

The minister made the remarks Thursday during his testimony before the South African Human Rights (SAHRC) Gauteng hearings on the July riots.

“We were called in from time to time by NATJOINTS to understand what is happening and we were clearly told that this situation has been caused by the arrest of the former president or the imminent arrest looming [at the time]’ said Lamola.

Lamola said the warning signs of an impending crisis in the country were there, and insisted the government had a plan to respond “quickly and in a timely manner” to any eventualities.

“You will of course remember that there was a lot of mobilization on social media and also incitement on various platforms that all South Africans could see at the time.

ALSO READ: SAHRC July unrest: Riots planned at ‘high political level’

“It was clear that this required a coordinated effort from all criminal justice structures to respond quickly and in a timely manner.

“That’s why you remember that when the former president went to jail, it was an operation that the South African police [Saps] ran until he got to the correctional center,” Lamola said.

Lamola said he based his statements on information from the security cluster about the causes and suspects who orchestrated the violence, widespread looting and destruction of several businesses.

“I think the intelligence services and also Saps, who are the people who were in the fight” [of the civil unrest]will be better placed to have a clear picture of an understanding about that situation,” he said.

Zuma’s arrest

In June 2021, Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of the Constitutional Court after ignoring his orders to appear before the state detention commission and testify under oath.

The former president’s jail term is widely believed to be the cause of the unrest that has resulted in the loss of more than 300 people, and the destruction of the local economy amounting to billions of Rand.

Zuma was released on parole just two months after his prison sentence, with the Pretoria Supreme Court later ruling that his release was illegal on medical grounds.

ALSO READ: Court rules Zuma’s medical parole was illegal, orders his return to prison

July unrest ‘unprecedented’

Earlier, Lamola said the civil unrest was unprecedented in South Africa’s democratic history. He said last year’s events can also be viewed from the perspective of multiple crises and challenges the country is currently facing.

“The civil unrest destabilized the country’s economy and negatively impacted the livelihoods of many. The closure of the company has also resulted in the loss of many jobs,” said Lamola.

The minister admitted that some suspects arrested during the unrest have been arrested for minor offences. He said the large number of arrested suspects overwhelmed the justice system and the police.

But he said his department had learned some valuable lessons from the unrest and was able to draft guidelines to ensure swift handling of suspects arrested for public violence and looting.

Some of these measures, according to the minister, include the department’s alternative dispute resolution process, case tracking in court and protocols to ensure that suspects do not become infected with Covid-19 while in prison.

“We understand there is a need for urgent action from the NATJOINTS operations center to respond to most of these issues in a timely and prompt manner to prevent further damage, loss of life, or further distraction from the social life of South Africans, also for the economy,” Lamola said.

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