OPINION | Rebuilding a credible and professional intelligence service urgent

todayJuly 14, 2023 2

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When you replace ‘why is this happening to me’ with ‘what is this trying to teach me’, everything shifts!

At a time when South Africa marked the second anniversary of ‘the two weeks in July 2021’, in just one day, at least eleven trucks were set alight in two incidents on our major road networks, the N3 and N4. In the first, traffic was brought to a standstill on the N3 highway, linking Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, near Van Reenen, following the deliberate and planned torching of six trucks on the morning of Sunday, 09 July!

The north-bound traffic heading to Johannesburg came to a standstill at Tugela Plaza, while south-bound traffic heading to Durban was packed at the top of Van Reenen’s Pass. This particular incident prompted President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa to characterise it as economic sabotage.

In a clearly coordinated manner, on the very same evening, at least five trucks were torched on the N4 linking Gauteng and both Mozambique and eSwatini, just before the Waterval Boven Tunnel. All we know is that there were at least eight assailants that traveled in a Toyota Hilux bakkie and a sedan and instructed the truck drivers to only take out their Identity Documents (IDs) and leave everything else before torching the trucks.

On Monday night, two trucks were set alight on the N2, near Empangeni followed by another three in Limpopo, bringing the number of known torched trucks to at least 16! Some of these truck drivers were held hostage for more than five hours whilst pleading not only for their own lives but for the trucks as well. This is important because about 86% of the economy of this country is transported by road, away from rail its natural, effective and efficient modality.

One logistics company, with each truck traveling about 15 000km per month, has already lost more than R20 million in this national suicide. More than half the provincial contribution to the national economy comes from Gauteng at 34.6%, representing R1.5 trillion with 14.3 million people and KwaZulu-Natal at 15.9% representing R692 billion with 11.1 million people.

By comparison, the Western Cape is at 13.7% representing R596 billion with 6.5 million people. Gauteng is the seventh largest economy in Africa with R4.35 trillion GDP ($286 billion of a $2.3 trillion continental GDP).

The tragedy of these own goals is that the Western Cape is positioning itself as ‘soon to be number two’ with its  preparations for an additional two million people that will settle in the province in the coming years. The consequence is that property sellers in KwaZulu-Natal are taking longer to sell their properties and often do not get their listed prices, whilst in the Western Cape buyers are out-bidding one another and pay more than the listed prices.

The impact of ‘the two weeks in July’ 2021 on our economy has made the implementation of our Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) even more tenuous. By the 19th of July, more than 350 lives had been lost; 150 000 jobs were put at risk, 5 000 informal traders; 32 schools were vandalised or had equipment stolen, while one school was destroyed in a fire in KZN; 40 000 businesses affected; 200 shopping centres and 3 000 stores were looted and damaged; 300 banks and post office outlets vandalised, 1 400 ATMs damaged; 161 liquor outlets and 113 communications infrastructure significantly damaged; 11 warehouses; 8 factories; etc. with R1.5 billion worth of stock lost just in KZN, a R50 billion (R20 billion on KZN) impact on national GDP went up in smoke!

About 1.5 million rounds of ammunition was stolen from a container at a depot in Prospecton. Clicks’ United Pharmaceutical Distributors was looted and the pharmaceutical company Cipla’s factory in Durban was burned down. More than 90 pharmacies were destroyed and vaccines and other medication were not spared from the rampant looting and torching of buildings; destruction of crucial infrastructure; deliberate disruption to our vaccine rollout programme towards achieving 80% of the population having developed antibodies to the COVID-19 virus and its attendant variants and how the economy has gone back 20  years.

The real loss, though, is how we continue with the self-harm, self-inflicted wounds and cutting our nose to spite our face – condemning our people to a self  perpetuating and vicious cycle of abject poverty – aggravating the stubbornly high level of unemployment that then leads to increasing levels of destitution and increasing levels of inequality.

The timing could not have been worse!

At a time that the South African Post Office’s (SAPO’s) business rescue proceedings will put 7 000 jobs at risk as the embattled state-owned entity plans to save R1.3 billion in annual salaries; water outage hitting Johannesburg on Tuesday. Despite areas of Gauteng possibly being hit with more snow, Rand Water says the 58-hour planned water outage in Johannesburg will still go ahead. The outage will start on Tuesday, 11 July at 19:00 and will last until 05:00 on Friday, 14 July; just at the conclusion of the ANC’s national executive committee meeting that was held in Boksburg; the Rand was flat at the start of a week in which local manufacturing and mining data will be released and still takes its cues from big global drivers and The Abu Dhabi Sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala plans to establish a banking presence in South Africa through First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) – valued at roughly $51 billion and has a bigger market capitalisation than South Africa’s ‘big four’ banks combined. This is on top of, among others, state capture; persistent load shedding with increasing frequency and increasing severity; Financial Action Task Force (FTAF) grey listing and cholera.

President Ramaphosa on 7 February 2022 authorised the release of the report of the expert panel appointed to probe the civil unrest in parts of Gauteng and KZN in July 2021. The panel interviewed a wide range of stakeholders and role players, from business, religious and civic organisations to law enforcement agencies and the media.

Some of the salient points of the 154- page report, whose recommendations the President proceeded to provide further clarity on government’s response when he presented the State of the Nation Address on 10 February 2022 are that, the violence, destruction and looting between 8 and 17 July 2021 in parts of KZN and Gauteng can be viewed in the context of multiple crises and challenges facing South Africa, key among them being the weakness of State institutions generally, a phenomenon that has been referred to as the hollowing out of State institutions; high unemployment, with youth unemployment above 70% and no consistent, continuous plan to address this challenge; inherited high levels of poverty and deep inequality; poor spatial planning, leading to overcrowded and unsuitable living conditions for many, with informal settlements emerging in crowded urban spaces as people move to the cities in search of opportunities; rampant corruption at various levels of government; the phenomenon of sponsored State Capture, as understood in the South African context; the frustrations caused by the COVID-19 restrictions, adding to the feelings of despair among the population.

The report highlighted the fact that the responses to the violence in some communities exposed deep-seated racial prejudices and tensions indicating that there is much to be done to achieve racial justice and greater social cohesion; there is belief that the security services are understaffed and under-resourced and are therefore thinly spread on the ground; several experts and think tanks argued that there are inefficiencies within the security services that if addressed could certainly go a long way in overcoming the resource constraints, as would smart partnerships with the private sector and more effective community engagement; neither the politicians nor the security services anticipated that the violence would take the form that it did – because this was a partly organised but partly spontaneous occurrence; the failure of reliable intelligence on this, points to the urgent need to implement the recommendations of the High Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency (SSA); the possibility that the faceless people behind this attack on the State were aware of the weaknesses of the security services makes the task of rebuilding a credible and professional intelligence service even more urgent; the intelligence services failed to predict the nature, scale and modus operandi of the July violence and that the Minister and the National Commissioner are poles apart in their interpretation of how the events of July could have been managed, if at all.

This is a matter of concern, as it narrows the grounds for consensus within the senior leadership of the police on what needs to be corrected going forward, and of who is to be held accountable for the failure to prevent the loss of life and the destruction of property that occurred. Written by Professor Bonang Mohale

About the Author

Bonang Mohale is the Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor of Practice in the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) in the College of Business and Economics and Chairman of two listed entities, The Bidvest Group Limited, ArcelorMittal and SBV Services! He is a member of the Community of Chairpersons (CoC) of the World Economic Forum and author of the two best selling books, Lift As You Rise and Behold The Turtle! He has been included in the Reputation Poll International’s (RPI) 2023 list of the ‘100 Most Reputable Africans’. The selection
criteria are Integrity, Reputation, Transparency, Visibility and Impact.

Written by: Lindiwe Mabena

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