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Defence minister admits security cluster was caught napping on shopping mall looting

14 July 2021 - 21:17 By andisiwe makinana
Soldiers patrol through a looted mall in Alexandra, Johannesburg. Calm was restored to the area with the deployment of the army.
Soldiers patrol through a looted mall in Alexandra, Johannesburg. Calm was restored to the area with the deployment of the army.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has admitted that the country's security agencies were caught napping with regards to the looting of shopping malls.

She told parliament's joint standing committee on defence that the security cluster leadership had assumed private security companies would look after malls as they are contracted to secure those businesses.

It never occurred to us that we should move to areas such as malls, particularly because in malls, anywhere, there is always a contract between business itself and private security companies.

“If you go to the malls, at every mall you will find the private security companies. However, now what we have learnt from here is that it's important for the police to keep regular contact with the private security companies who are deployed at malls. They are the ones who get information about the first action which happens there, so that they then link up with the police.

“We missed this one of interaction. It's only now that police, since yesterday, have been interacting with the security companies who are at the malls,” she added, describing this as an eye-opener for the security cluster.

“It was a learning curve and we were nearly caught with our ... I don't want to say pants down. But that's the reality, I think that's what happened,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

She said that when the deployment of soldiers started, it focused on national key points.

“It was like guard duties in areas ... where you have oil refineries and at the airports. That's what we thought we needed to do, which was a discussion which was held between the police and the army,” she said.

She said the government had not expected that people would attack malls and hence there were no soldiers in the shopping centres.

“Our agreement was that we [army] do guard duty, so that we can release the police to enforce the law and deal with people who were carrying out acts of criminality. That's the only reason we were not at the malls,” she said.

In a meeting of the ANC's national executive committee earlier this week, Mapisa-Nqakula decried inaction by private security companies whom she described as well-armed and well organised and in the main responsible for securing private properties and businesses

In a leaked audio clip, the minister could be heard saying: “As we are talking now there has been a lot of looting of shopping malls, there is a lot of shopping malls which have been burnt down, that thing and it has been happening in the presence of the private security in those areas.”

She said government needed to engage the industry to see what they could do together “because it can't be correct that they are responsible for the businesses but they are just watching and nothing is happening”.

“They are not stopping people from looting businesses. I am just raising that because it is a source of concern and we will have to deal with it,” she said at the time.