In a demonstration that soldiers can be deployed to help the police if called upon, South Africa started dispatching the military in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces yesterday to quell disturbances that have seen shops being looted, vehicles and buildings burnt, and some roads badly damaged.
In his address to the nation last night, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa said as Commander-in-Chief of the South African Defence Force (SANDF), he had authorised the deployment of the military to restore order.
President Ramaphosa called on citizens to stop destroying property and torching vehicles, as this could lead to joblessness in the near future.
He added that South Africa faces the possibility of medicine and food shortages due to looting and destruction of property.
A statement from the SANDF yesterday said they had started pre-deployment processes and procedures following a request for assistance received to assist law enforcement agencies deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces “to quell the unrest that has gripped both provinces in the last few days”.
“The duration and number of deploying soldiers will be determined based on the assessment of the situation on the ground by the relevant law enforcement agencies,” said the SANDF.
So bad are the protests that some roads have been shut down while plumes of dark smoke can be seen in most parts of the country as buildings and vehicles are set alight.
As of yesterday, police said six people had been killed in the protests with about 489 arrested for protesting, looting and arson.
The protests began last Thursday after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma (79), for 15 months, on contempt of court charges arising from allegations that he defied a constitutional court order to give evidence at a commission of inquiry investigating corruption during his nine years in office up to 2018.
South Africans have been protesting demanding the immediate release of the former president.
Economists have said in KwaZulu-Natal alone, property and business estimated at over R100 million had been lost due to the protests and vandalism.
Some South Africans told media organisations that the protests will intensify until Zuma was freed.
Zuma’s legal team wants the sentence rescinded and in a virtual hearing yesterday, the lawyers cited a rule that judgments could be reconsidered if made in the absence of the affected person or containing a patent error.
The deployment of the army in South Africa vindicates Zimbabwe’s deployment of the military to quell volatile situations in the past, as happened on August 1, 2018.
But opposition parties, particularly the MDC-Alliance and Western-sponsored NGOs and some embassies, criticised the Government saying it was unnecessary to deploy soldiers despite clear evidence of destruction of property and violation of the rights of people that did not want to participate in the violent protests.
A report compiled by the Motlanthe Commission after an inquiry into the August 1, 2018 disturbances, said according to the evidence produced before it, there was no doubt that the demonstrators became riotous and caused substantial damage, with several cars being set ablaze and there was a serious threat to public safety.
“Moreover, there is evidence of damage to fuel pumps at Zuva Service Station at number 100 Chinhoyi Street when about 60 protesters attacked the station.
“This evidence indicates that there was a risk of the service station being set alight. Given the nature of these actions, it was clear that had the riots not been checked, the situation could have escalated resulting in disastrous consequences,” said the report.
“It was therefore not surprising that the Commissioner-General of the Police requested the Minister of Home Affairs to initiate the steps required by the Constitution and the applicable law for the deployment of the army to assist the police in the containment of the riots and the restoration of law and order.
“The Commission found out that on the basis of all prevailing circumstances, and in the light of all the evidence, including the rapid escalation of the situation in a very short space of time, the decision to deploy the military to assist the police in the containment of the riots was justified.”
The Motlanthe Commission was chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.