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SANDF chief says SA caught with its pants down by July unrest

Unrest 'caught everybody by surprise', Gen Rudzani Maphwanya tells SAHRC

The SANDF claims there was no intelligence given before the July 2021 unrest. File photo.
The SANDF claims there was no intelligence given before the July 2021 unrest. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times

SA National Defence Force (SANDF) chief Gen Rudzani Maphwanya on Tuesday suggested that the force was not prepared for the July 2021 unrest which erupted in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Testifying before the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Tuesday, Maphwanya said “the unrest caught everybody by surprise”.

The commission is probing the unrest which erupted after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma. Mass looting and destruction of businesses ensued and more than 300 people lost their lives during the turmoil.

Maphwanya claimed the SANDF did not have intelligence before the unrest and moved to clarify that what they did have was just unsubstantiated claims or information.

He said information only turned to intelligence once it had been collated and interpreted, and this was not done by the SANDF.

“The defence force did not collect intelligence before or during the unrest,” he said, adding that when the SANDF finally responded to the unrest-hit areas, it was because they were acting on requests for support.

Maphwanya said he was aware of weekly meetings between the police, the State Security Agency and the defence force, but around the time of the unrest, the focus of these had been on the Covid-19 outbreak and not the riots.

He stressed that the Covid-19 outbreak also affected these meetings, saying because of the high virus infection rate, they had be held virtually. The virtual meetings provided limitations because they could not share important information this way.

While testimony from previous witnesses revealed that there was a lack of synergy between the police and soldiers who were on the ground in the affected areas, Maphwanya said this was not the case.

He said there was a good working relationship between the police and the SANDF during that time with there being “no report of animosity, jealousy or turf wars ... It was more co-operative than competitive”.

He conceded that if anything, there was a co-ordination challenge between themselves and SAPS when some of the troops arrived in KwaZulu-Natal, but this was quickly attended to.


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