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Experts say four nabbed over unrest ‘are lower than low hanging fruit’

24 July 2021 - 18:13 By graeme hosken
Former Ukhozi FM presenter and Jacob Zuma supporter Ngizwe Mchunu appearing at the Randburg magistrate's court in Johannesburg. Experts have slammed government for wasting resources chasing after "minions of the masterminds" of the unrest.
Former Ukhozi FM presenter and Jacob Zuma supporter Ngizwe Mchunu appearing at the Randburg magistrate's court in Johannesburg. Experts have slammed government for wasting resources chasing after "minions of the masterminds" of the unrest.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / The Sunday Times

The four accused who appeared in courts in Gauteng for allegedly instigating a week of deadly violence “are lower than low hanging fruit”.

With serious doubt now being cast on government’s abilities to catch the masterminds, as well as its assertions that 12 key people were behind the violence State Security Agency and Crime Intelligence sources say vital time and resources have been wasted in chasing the “minions of the masterminds”.

“If [government] was serious about this, we would have had the intelligence weeks, if not months, before the outbreak of the violence,” said a source with the SSA who is involved in the investigation.

“Those who plotted this violence would have been caught, charged with crimes such as sedition or treason, and taken to court. Instead we are chasing after these so-called 12 key instigators, who are lower than low hanging fruit. Yes, these people, through their community and social media networks, got communities to loot, but they are by no means the masterminds.”

The source alleged it was also not just the 12 who were used to incite violence.

“A lot of us are scratching our heads wondering how these 12 were identified, when it is clear a lot more were spreading the word to loot.”

A Crime Intelligence source said bogus intelligence was driving the investigation.

“Yes, those who spread the messages must be caught, but those who planned this should be the number one priority of the investigation.

“From what has happened so far in terms of the investigation it feels as though attention is being diverted from people who could be the real instigators of what happened.”

The sources’ comments follow Wednesday’s announcement in parliament by National Prosecuting Authority boss, Adv Shamila Batohi, that she doubted that the Hawks had the manpower or expertise to investigate and catch the masterminds behind the violence.

Batohi, along with Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, was appearing before Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services.

On Friday alleged instigator, Sibusiso Mavuso, made a brief second appearance at the Westonaria magistrate’s court on charges of instigating public violence.

Also appearing in court this week was former Ukhozi FM DJ and staunch Jacob Zuma supporter, Ngizwe Mchunu; Patriotic Alliance member Bruce Nimmerhoudt and West Rand ANC ward councillor Clarence Tabane. They appeared in the Randburg, Westonaria and Roodepoort magistrates courts respectively.

All four have been remanded until their appearance next week.

Institute of Security Studies policing expert, Dr Johan Burger, agreed with Batohi.

“Three weeks ago the Hawks head Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya gave the police portfolio committee a briefing where he listed the Hawks’ shortcomings.  One of the things he raised was the unit’s lack of capacity.”

Burger said for years specialist crime fighting units like the Hawks had been deliberately hollowed out.

“The Hawks have insufficient experienced investigators. The former Hawks head, Berning Ntlemeza, was part of the state capture problem and used to ensure the protection of Jacob Zuma.

“Ntlemeza hollowed out the Hawks by either directly removing highly capable detectives or driving away experienced officers by making it unbearable to work within the unit.”

He said while attempts are being made to rebuild it, it was a time-consuming process.

Stellenbosch University policing and conflict expert, Professor Guy Lamb, said it was clear the police had been caught completely unaware by what had happened.

“What is needed to make a dent in this case is to get those who co-ordinated the attacks. At the moment it appears the police are going for the visible people who were driving the looting via voicenotes.

“To get the masterminds requires extensive policing skills and above all else sound intelligence and extensive informer networks. For the police it now does not look good.”

Lamb said the Hawks had previously focused on more traditional investigations having never had to deal with violent opposition.

“The types of cases that the Crimes Against the State Unit have investigated, such as the Boeremag and the Thulsie Twins, are small-scale compared to what has happened here.

“This is far more complex and draws on a dissatisfied sentiment with political links to the ruling party. Something like this has not featured in the Hawks threat matrix before.”

He said the crisis showed the urgent need for restructuring and reforms of law enforcement, especially as inequality and poverty were being weaponised by non-state groups to engage in economic sabotage, unrest and destabilisation.

“While intelligence gathering has been focused on criminal groups, it must be refocused to also deal with violence driven by political factionalism spilling over into society. The State’s law enforcement agencies must adapt to deal with this.”