No state of emergency for South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa will not declare a state of emergency in South Africa.

During an address to the nation on Friday evening, Ramaphosa said that a state of emergency was the last resort if all other efforts to stabilise the country have failed.

He said that the declaration of a State of Emergency would result in the suspension of several Constitutional rights and that no responsible government would do that lightly.

South Africa is currently in a national state of disaster, which already affords the president and his cabinet several emergency powers.

The main difference between a state of disaster and a state of emergency is that certain protections afforded by the Bill of Rights can be suspended.

Webber Wentzel partner Michael Evans has explained that Section 37 of the Constitution contains a table that sets out which rights in the Bill of Rights are non-derogable.

The implication is that all other rights can be derogated.

The president can therefore restrict freedom of movement, freedom of trade, and freedom of association under the state of emergency.

The rights to equality, human dignity and life cannot be derogated.

Evans said that the major right that the president may suspend during a state of emergency is that people can be detained without trial. However, this would be subject to many restrictions.

Ramaphosa gave an update on the government’s progress in restoring order and recovering from the looting and violence which has gripped South Africa in recent days.

This came hours after he visited several areas in KwaZulu-Natal, where looting and violence took place over the past week.

“The streets and buildings I saw bear the scars of looting and mayhem. But what is most devastating is the toll that these events have taken on people’s lives, livelihoods and sense of security,” the president said.

The decision not to declare a state of emergency comes even as Ramaphosa announced that the violence and looting of the past week were a planned insurrection.

Mustek building
Arson of Mustek offices in Durban

“It is clear now that the events of the last week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated, and well-planned attack on our democracy,” Ramaphosa stated. “The Constitutional order of our country is under threat.”

Ramaphosa said that the current instability and ongoing incitement to violence constituted a direct contravention of the Constitution of South Africa and the rule of law.

“These actions are intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken – or even dislodge – the democratic state. Using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection,” Ramaphosa said.

“The ensuing chaos is used as a smokescreen to carry out economic sabotage through targeted attacks on trucks, factories, warehouses and other infrastructure necessary for the functioning of our economy and the provision of services to our people.”

“They have sought to exploit the social and economic conditions under which many South Africans live, conditions that have worsened since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and to provoke citizens and criminals to engage in opportunistic acts of looting,” the president stated.

Various reports citing sources in the security cluster have alleged that government has identified 12 ringleaders who instigated the violence.

According to News24, one of the supposed primary suspects is controversial former head of the State Security Agency’s (SSA) rogue special operations unit, Thulani Dlomo.

Dlomo earlier today handed himself over to the police for questioning but was released without charge.

Fingers have also been pointed at Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambundla, who has expressed support for the rioters on social media. It’s not yet clear if she is in the crosshairs of investigators.

Duduzile Zuma-Sambundla
Duduzile Zuma-Sambundla

Ramaphosa said the government was aware of the calls for a state of emergency in light of these events but believed it was unnecessary under present circumstances.

“Our view has been that a state of emergency should only be declared when all other means of stabilising the situation have shown to be inadequate,” the president said.

“A state of emergency would allow a drastic limitation of the basic rights contained in our Constitution, which no responsible government would want to do unless it was absolutely necessary.”

Ramaphosa admitted that the government was not prepared for the unrest but said that despite the widespread destruction, the attempted insurrection had failed to gain popular support.

“It has failed because of the efforts of our security forces, and it has failed because South Africans have rejected it and have stood up in defence of our hard-won democracy,” he said.

Rooikat armoured vehicles were seen patrolling the streets in KwaZulu-Natal today.

Ramaphosa also provided an update on the latest statistics of incidents, arrests, and deaths related to the violence.

The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure recorded over 118 incidents of public violence, arson, looting and other unrest-related instances since the unrest started.

“Over 2,550 people have been arrested in connection with the unrest, and special arrangements are being put in place to ensure that these cases are prioritised.”

Ramaphosa said that at least 212 people lost their lives during the violence, 180 in KwaZulu-Natal and 32 in Gauteng.

“The South African Police Service is investigating 131 cases of murder and has opened inquest dockets in respect of 81 deaths,” he added.

Preliminary reports compiled by NatJoints showed that extensive damage had been caused to:

  • 161 malls and shopping centres
  • 11 warehouses
  • 8 factories
  • 161 liquor outlets and distributors.

Ramaphosa said that the government’s priorities were to stabilise the country and secure essential supplies and infrastructure.

Ramaphosa said of the 25,000-strong SANDF deployment he has authorised, 10,000 were already on the ground, with the remaining forces arriving in their respective areas of deployment over the course of the weekend.

The president thanked law enforcement personnel, health care workers, social workers, security guards, municipal employees, journalists, and many other frontline public servants for their roles during the riots.

“We call on all South Africans to encourage calm and restraint, to desist from sharing false information, and to report any incidents of violence to the police immediately. By doing these basic things, we can all work to protect South Africa,” Ramaphosa said.

If we stand together, no insurrection or violence in this country will succeed. We are engaged in a struggle to defend our democracy, our Constitution, our livelihoods and our safety. This is not a battle that we can afford to lose.”

Now read: Millions in damage after Mustek building burned to the ground

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No state of emergency for South Africa