Protests sparked on July 7 after the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma and rapidly devolved into unprecedented massive looting and arson across the country. “As this government, we must acknowledge that we were poorly prepared for an orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage of this nature,” Ramaphosa said in a national address on Friday night.
“Yet, despite the widespread destruction, this attempted insurrection has 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,” he said.
Relative calm returned to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces on Friday after a week of rampant violence, looting and arson that has left over 200 people dead, hundreds of businesses razed to the ground, and billions of rands looted from stores by thousands of people.
“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,” Ramaphosa candidly admitted.
“Once this crisis has passed, we will undertake a thorough and critical review of our preparedness and our response. It is clear now that the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy,” he added.
Zuma started a 15-month sentence after the country’s apex Constitutional Court found him guilty of contempt of court because he refused to return to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where he has been repeatedly accused of involvement in corruption by witnesses.
The president said the actions of the past week were intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken or even dislodge the democratic state.
“Using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection. They have sought to exploit the social and economic conditions under which many South Africans live – conditions that have worsened since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – and to provoke ordinary citizens and criminal networks to engage in opportunistic acts of looting,” he said.
“The ensuing chaos was 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,” Ramaphosa said.
The president detailed four immediate priorities -- to stabilise the country; to secure essential supplies and infrastructure; to provide relief and support recovery and rebuilding; and to encourage the active efforts of citizens in defence of lives, livelihoods and democracy.
Security forces have reopened vital supply routes to ensure the safe transport of fuel, food, oxygen, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and other critical supplies, he said.
Ramaphosa said he understood the widespread calls for him to declare a state of emergency but stressed that it was not necessary as the deployment of security forces, working together with communities and social partners across the country, would be able to restore order and prevent further violence.
The president also expressed concern over the violence and destruction disrupting the vaccination campaign which was likely to fuel a further increase of COVID-19 infections as the country battles its third wave of coronavirus, which has seen more infections and deaths than the first two.
Relief for those left destitute by the violence is also on the cards, with Provincial Departments of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency instructed to use their remaining budgets in the Social Relief of Distress programme to provide support in the form of food parcels, cash and food vouchers, he said.
“We will also help our small businesses, including those in townships and rural areas, to heal from the damage they have suffered,” Ramaphosa said as he concluded with an impassioned plea to citizens.
“Those responsible for organising this campaign of violence and destruction have not yet been apprehended and their networks have not yet been dismantled. We must therefore remain vigilant and resist any efforts to incite further violence,” the president said.