President Cyril Ramaphosa has admitted that the country was ill-prepared for the violent protests and looting that broke out in parts of the country after the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma.
Addressing the nation on Friday night, Ramaphosa said the country was going to learn from the violent protests which almost crippled the economy.
He was addressing the nation after his visit to KwaZulu-Natal, where protests first broke out and later spread to Gauteng.
“Fellow South Africans, as this government, we must acknowledge that we were poorly prepared for an orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage of this nature. While we commend the brave actions of our security forces on the ground, we must admit that we did not have the capabilities and plans in place to respond swiftly and decisively.
“Our police were faced with a difficult situation and exercised commendable restraint to prevent any loss of life or further escalation. However, once additional security personnel were deployed, they were able to quickly restore calm to most areas that were affected.
“Once this crisis has passed, we will undertake a thorough and critical review of our preparedness and our response,” said Ramaphosa.
He called the violence an insurrection, saying it had placed SA’s constitutional democracy under threat.
“What is most devastating is the toll that these events have taken on people’s lives, livelihoods and sense of security. The human toll will take much longer to repair. It is clear now that the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, co-ordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy.
“The constitutional order of our country is under threat. The current instability and ongoing incitement to violence constitutes a direct contravention of the constitution and the rule of law. These actions are intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken — or even dislodge — the democratic state,” said Ramaphosa.
He said those who planned the unrest used a political grievance and sought to provoke a popular insurrection and use the social and economic conditions under which many South Africans lived to provoke ordinary citizens and criminal networks to engage in looting.
“The ensuing chaos is used as a smokescreen to carry out economic sabotage through targeted attacks on trucks, factories, warehouses and other infrastructure necessary for the functioning of our economy and the provision of services to our people.
“Through social media, through fake news and misinformation, they have sought to inflame racial tensions and violence. Worst of all, they have sought to manipulate the poor and vulnerable for their own benefit,” said Ramaphosa.
But he emphasised that the attempts to cause widespread destruction in the country had failed to gain popular support.
“It has failed because of the efforts of our security forces, and it has failed because South Africans have rejected it and have stood up in defence of our hard-won democracy. I saw that determination in action today as I walked through the streets of eThekwini.
“I saw people cleaning up the streets, rebuilding their lives, standing together united in their diversity — young and old, men and women, black and white. They were grateful for the support of the security forces and made it clear to me that they stand united and will work with government to restore stability,” he said.
Ramaphosa confirmed that 212 people have died in the violence. He said police were investigating 131 cases of murder and had opened 81 inquest dockets relating to other deaths.