Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.
On 27 October, Parliament announced that President Cyril Ramaphosa had decided to deploy 10,000 soldiers during the local government elections.
The seemingly standard press release said this was done to assist the South African Police Service keep peace over the next week – without giving further details.
Deployment of soldiers for major events is not out of the ordinary, given how demanding elections are and how the police are expected to secure the 23,000 voting stations throughout SA.
However, one has to wonder whether the number of those deployed has anything to do with current threats of unrest and lawlessness that we are seeing within the country.
We should not forget that at the height of the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the initial number of soldiers deployed was 2,500 – before Ramaphosa increased the number tenfold following an outcry.
So the questions are valid.
The government and the police ministry will have us believe that ours is a peaceful country where the rule of law reigns supreme. But the facts on the ground point to something else.
Earlier this month, Police Minister Bheki Cele wrote to his embattled national commissioner, Khehla Sitole, withdrawing permission that the minister had earlier granted to the police boss to travel to Germany.
But hidden in that missive, dated 6 October 2021, was a startling claim by the minister as to the reasons for the withdrawal of the earlier approval.
The reasons for the withdrawal, said Cele, were: “the current instability in the country, the scourge of police killings and the upcoming local government elections. The SA Police Service is responsible [for ensuring] that the elections are held in a safe and secure environment and should, as far as possible, prevent the outbreak of the devastating unrest in July 2021.”
Cele then warns that it would be irresponsible to allow Sitole to travel abroad “during this crucial period in the country”.
It is now a known fact that both men don’t see eye to eye.
Also, it is a forgone conclusion that it is only a matter of time before Ramaphosa suspends Sitole – after the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld an earlier high court ruling that found that Sitole and two of his deputies had breached their duties. It is understood that Ramaphosa will make the announcement after the local government elections.
One theory for the withdrawal of permission is that Cele was being spiteful. Or could it be that the minister knows something that we don’t?
As the drama in the upper echelon unfolds, the country is gripped by growing incidents of lawlessness.
This week alone social media is abuzz with the tales of the “John Wick of Mamelodi” – derived from the fictional Hollywood character played by Keanu Reeves – following the recent killings of notorious gangsters in the north of Tshwane.
The latest killing was that of a man known as “Nkunzi”, who is linked to the so-called Boko Haram gang (no relation to the terrorist group based in Nigeria). The local Boko Haram has been accused of terrorising the community and running extortion rings in the area.
Obviously a gatvol (fed-up) community will cheer the antics of the vigilante and hail the so-called John Wick as a hero. But the reality is that he is as much a criminal as are the alleged gangsters that he has gunned down. If the story is true, then the so-called John Wick of Mamelodi has now become a serial killer.
But that is what we have become. Gangsters are running roughshod over communities, while vigilantes are hailed as heroes.
The four Moti siblings are still in the hands of their kidnappers after they were forcefully abducted on their way to school, in Polokwane, last week.
Instead of positive updates or leads, the police instead issued a bizarre statement calling on the media not to publish any stories about the kidnapping. That is unheard of. Why would the media not report on such an important story? The kidnappers are still at large and pose a danger to everyone else out there. It would be irresponsible of the media to have a blackout on the story.
Every week a councillor candidate is murdered in this country, while disgruntled truck drivers continue to blockade major roads, calling on the government to accede to their demands.
Taxi bosses are involved in an internecine war, whether in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape or KwaZulu-Natal. At the same time e-hailing drivers are harassed, assaulted and their vehicles damaged by jealous minibus taxi drivers who clearly don’t understand that competition is part of business.
Add to that the fact that we still do not know who the real masterminds of July are.
It may well be that I’m being alarmist here. But it must also be remembered that a few seemingly unrelated incidents quickly morphed into what came to be known as the July unrest.
Is there something that Cele is not telling us? DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.