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‘This Attempted Insurrection Has Failed’ – President Cyril Ramaphosa

In an address to the nation on Friday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa used strong words to describe the unrest of the past week and the con...

In an address to the nation on Friday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa used strong words to describe the unrest of the past week and the consequences for those responsible for instigating it.

Acknowledging that authorities were unprepared for the violence, he pledged economic support for those affected.

“It is clear now that the events of the last week were nothing but a deliberate, well planned and coordinated attack on our democracy,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told South Africans on Friday night, following a week of looting and violence that left the country reeling.

The instigators of the unrest, Ramaphosa said, had intended to “cripple the economy”, “severely weaken or even dislodge the democratic state”, and “provoke a popular insurrection”.

He said that conditions of poverty and unemployment had been exploited, and the poor and vulnerable manipulated.

“This attempted insurrection has failed,” Ramaphosa said.

“It has failed to gain popular support among our people. South Africans have rejected it.”

While the situation has stabilised in most parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the president warned that danger persisted as long as those responsible have not been apprehended “and their networks dismantled”.

But even though only one alleged instigator has been arrested to date, Ramaphosa said that the identity of the others was known.

A few hours earlier, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni explained to the media that the name of the arrested individual cannot yet be released because he or she has not yet been charged and appeared before a court of law. Ntshavheni would also not be drawn on what charges instigators could expect to face.

Asked by journalists what evidence authorities had that the unrest had been choreographed, Ntshavheni replied: “All South Africans can realise this thing was planned”.

She said she could not reveal details of evidence, but that the plunder of ammunition depots suggested coordination and that social media showed clear proof of planning.

President Ramaphosa gave a sober tallying-up of the human toll: at least 212 lives lost, with 180 fatalities in KwaZulu-Natal and 32 in Gauteng. Police have opened dockets for 131 cases of murder so far.

The destruction of property and theft of goods has cost “billions and billions of rands”, Ramaphosa said. Over 118 incidents of public violence, arson, looting and other unrest have been recorded over the past week. 161 malls and shopping centres have been looted; 11 warehouses; 8 factories; 161 liquor outlets.

There has been further damage to roads and other infrastructure.

As he had done earlier in the day while on a walkabout around parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Ramaphosa admitted that the initial government response left something to be desired.

“We must acknowledge that we were poorly prepared for an orchestrated campaign of public violence,” the president said. Plans were not in place to respond “swiftly and decisively”.

But he was also full of praise for both the police – for exercising “commendable restraint” – and the army, for bringing the situation under control within 48 hours of deployment.
‘This Attempted Insurrection Has Failed’ – President Cyril Ramaphosa
‘This Attempted Insurrection Has Failed’ – President Cyril Ramaphosa

Ramaphosa further paid tribute to ordinary South Africans, who he said had shown great courage and grit in “defending our democracy” and in participating in clean-up efforts thereafter.

The president hinted, in fact, that he wished regular public clean-up efforts to become a part of South African life – as is done in countries like Rwanda, where citizens are required to do community work once a month.

Ramaphosa said that government was in the process of providing “immediate food relief” in areas hardest hit by looting, like Ulundi. The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Department of Social Development have been ordered to use their remaining budgets to provide food vouchers and cash to those in need. The Solidarity Fund has also established a humanitarian crisis relief fund to be drawn on.

When it comes to the businesses affected by looting, the president said that a team was hard at work preparing a “comprehensive support package”, of which details would be announced soon.

Ramaphosa said that although calls to establish a State of Emergency were “understandable” under the circumstances, he was of the view that this “drastic limitation of basic rights” should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

Earlier, Ntshavheni had announced the re-opening of the N2 and N3 highways, with the transportation of food and fuel recommencing. As such, the minister said that food and fuel shortages should be abated soon.

But Ramaphosa was at pains to spell out the disastrous effects of the week’s activities.

The South African economy would be enormously damaged at a time when it is already suffering from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown, he said. The unrest would “deepen poverty and cause even greater hardship”.

The looting will likely lead to an uptick in Covid-19 infections, and it has disrupted a vaccination programme which was finally picking up speed.

Concluding on a more positive note, he urged South Africans to use Sunday’s Mandela Day to “reaffirm our commitment to our democracy”.

Said Ramaphosa: “Let us speak of the triumph of our Constitution, not its destruction”. DM

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