Violent and fatal unrest that has engulfed large swathes of the country has forced President Cyril Ramaphosa introduce a military boots-on-the-ground strategy in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
Reading from a teleprompter — and again without taking questions from reporters — a visibly forlorn Ramaphosa began by saying he was addressing South Africa “with a heavy heart” and that the unprecedented military action was necessitated by the levels of violence and because “law-abiding citizens [had] been threatened and intimidated”.
Ramaphosa read out the names of six Gauteng residents and four from KwaZulu-Natal who had lost their lives during the carnage. In total, 166 people had been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal and 323 in Gauteng.
The president said the looting had started with the burning of trucks in Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal, over the weekend. It was followed by blockades of roads in the province and the looting of shops in eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg. This, Ramaphosa added, had spilled into Gauteng and could reach other provinces.
“What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft. There is no grievance nor any political cause that can justify the violence and destruction that we have seen in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng,” he charged.
As the country’s commander-in-chief, the president added he had deployed the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which would be working in tandem with the South African Police Service (SAPS), to bring about calm in the country.
The SANDF confirmed earlier on Monday that it had commenced with pre-deployment processes to assist the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, which requested help, to “quell the unrest that has gripped [Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal] in the last few days”.
“The duration and number of deployed soldiers will be determined based on the assessment of the situation on the ground by the relevant law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, it must be emphasised that the SANDF’s deployment objective is to provide safety and a safe working environment for members of the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies [while] they carry out their constitutionally mandated law and order duties,” the SANDF said.
On Monday, the Mail & Guardian reported that senior SANDF sources had told the publication that the deployment would be code-named “Operation Prosper”, the same name given to the 2019 deployment to the Cape Flats.
Ramaphosa said he and his ministers from the security cluster had met with senior leaders of Business Unity South Africa to update them on the government’s response.
“We are making arrangements for government leaders and public representatives as part of their responsibilities to meet with leaders in various communities to promote stability. As part of our ongoing engagement with key sectors of society, I will be meeting with leaders of political parties to discuss the current situation,” Ramaphosa said.
A barrage of fake videos and pictures has spread on various online platforms, and Ramaphosa called for an end to this.
“We should refrain from posting and circulating inflammatory messages on social media and from spreading rumours or false reports that may create further panic among our people,” he asserted.
Acknowledging the devastation of Covid-19, Ramaphosa said: “This violence and destruction takes place in the midst of a devastating pandemic. There is a danger that these events will lead to an even greater surge in infections, putting many more lives at risk and placing a greater burden on our health facilities and personnel.”
He added: “There is a danger that our vaccination programme will be disrupted in some areas just as we need to significantly expand its reach.”