We were poorly prepared — President Ramaphosa

South Africa’s government was ill-prepared to handle the riots that gripped KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng during this past week as it was an engineered insurrection, President Cyril Ramaphosa said during a national address on Friday evening.

“We must acknowledge that we were poorly prepared for an orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction, and sabotage of this nature,” the president stated.

Ramaphosa said that the violence and looting of the past week were masterminded, and that government has identified the individuals responsible.

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

“These actions are intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken — or even dislodge — the democratic state.”

The president said that insurrectionists used the pretext of a political grievance to provoke a popular uprising.

“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,” Ramaphosa said.

“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.”

Ramaphosa also said that while the masterminds behind the attacks have been identified, several of them are still at large and being pursued by the police.

Despite this, he will not declare a state of emergency.

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’s military has already been deployed in full force, with 25,000 troops mobilised to help the police and the reserve called up for duty.

“While we commend the brave actions of our security forces on the ground, we must admit we did not have the capabilities and plans in place as this happened to respond swiftly and decisively,” Ramaphosa stated.

He said that the police were faced with a difficult situation and exercised commendable restraint to prevent any loss of life or further escalation.

“However, once additional security personnel were deployed they were quickly able to restore calm to most areas which were affected.”

Ramaphosa said that once this crisis has passed, the government will undertake a thorough and critical review of its preparedness and response to incidents such as these.

For now, though, government’s priorities were as follows:

  1. Stabilise the country
  2. Secure essential supplies and infrastructure
  3. Provide relief and support, recovery, and rebuilding
  4. Encourage the active efforts of citizens in defence of their lives, livelihoods, and democracy

Ramaphosa said that there is no shortage of food or supplies in most parts of the country and asked people not to “go panic-buying”.

“It will only worsen the situation,” Ramaphosa said.

The President promised to bring the full might of South Africa’s law to bear against those who incited the chaos.

“We will extinguish the fires that are raging, and stamp out every last ember. We will identify and act against those who lit the flame, and those who spread it,” Ramaphosa said.

“We will find those who instigated this violence. They will be held accountable for their deeds. We will not allow anyone to destabilise our country and get away with it.

“We will not allow any person or any group to challenge the authority of our democratically elected government.”

Now read: Using WhatsApp to incite violence in South Africa – legal opinion

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We were poorly prepared — President Ramaphosa