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I had to take a second… pause as the taste of democracy, savoury and familiar, was slapped out of my mouth and replaced with something more bitter and acidic. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t know that our democracy is fragile, perhaps even assuming an illusory form at times -unwilling to extend beyond the disappointments of a government ruled by greed, into something functional and robust but an insurrection? I never imagined our democracy so easily rattled and our state security; so blatantly unprepared. In a series of events as cataclysmically large as a national coup – as confirmed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last night. The determinable “beginning” seems rather a naive concept to try and establish and so I’ll begin where the foulest stench of all wafts forth from, my favourite foe and perhaps the most typically gung-ho, trigger-happy parliamentarian of them all; Bheki Cele.
I do research, before I assume what my English teachers would have called a soapbox, I do research. In the infancy of my research for this particular piece – beginning with Police Minister Cele, the related search on Google read as follows “Is Bheki Cele still alive?”. I couldn’t help but howl with laughter because not only does it perfectly mirror my tweet only days earlier:
Do we… do we have a police minister? Did Bheki Cele die? pic.twitter.com/ukJPrMKXY2
— SANKOFA (@sankofaspace) July 12, 2021
It perfectly encapsulates the vacuum of legal enforcement in this national insurrection – which I submit is no error- if only a confirmation that we have an enemy hiding in plain sight. Bheki Cele is known for many things, his love of ugly hats, his lack of restraint in situations of unrest, and the immediacy with which he has historically acted on the impulse to exercise brutal force. All of these things, bar his hat, seemed to have taken an atypical break during the last two weeks beginning at Nkandla.
I could not help but be shocked, to the point of suspicion, by Cele’s actions during the super-spreader event at Nkandla. Bheki Cele routinely behaves… well… questionably. Known for his trigger-happy persona; perhaps best encapsulated by his infamous (much contested) policing mantra “shoot-to-kill“, Cele is perhaps less interested in law enforcement than he has been in relishing in state-sanctioned violence. This, a fair statement, given the sheer lack of critical analysis or restraint exercised by the police (and championed by Cele) during the recent #FeesMustFall protests, or perhaps the Marikana Massacre or Anti-GBV protests – the list remains extensive and at every interval, the police response has remained consistently violent. Violences that would probably have been avoidable, had the Minister actually pursued a career for which he is aptly trained, certified, and capable; that of a pre-school teacher. Nonetheless, having risen considerably in the ranks Cele remains seemingly fastened to the position of police minister. Nothing strikes as truly remarkable about Cele, how he has historically exercised his policing mandate with a decidedness that often goes unnoticed perhaps because of how desperately unfulfilling it is. South Africa is facing numerous epidemics, of which femicide is a glaringly obvious and incredibly painful one. Femicide which could be thwarted with better police training, infrastructural regulations, renewed policing systems and law enforcement practices, theoretically, but on all these fronts Cele remains mute. However, when it comes to illegal liquor sales there is a swift and seemingly immediate clampdown. Now one would suspect the same decidedness when…I donno a reported 100 individuals brandishing weapons, threatening the police, and breaking multiple laws during a global health pandemic. However, if this would have been your expectations, they would have seemingly been misplaced as police exercised an unusual brand of caution and non-violent approach during the pro-Zuma loyalist frontier.
So you’re telling me the same police who recently released water canons on disabled PENSIONERS attempting to get their SASSA grants for allegedly not maintaining social-distancing regulations – suddenly understand how to operate in an openly hostile situation.
Cele lauded the police’s new-found savvy openly only days later, with thinly-veiled patriarchy, saying:
Cele alleges that the long-arm of the law, constantly unable to help women and children at present, will somehow become manifest and extend itself like Elastigirl in The Incredibles and result in the arrest of law-breakers at Nkandla… if need be. Police spokespersons, and Cele himself, have alleged that restraint was exercised to prevent bloodshed.
You’re telling me that the same police who used rubber bullets like confetti, during clashes with predominantly unarmed UKZN students who utilized ironing-boards as shields, is suddenly and miraculously concerned about unnecessary bloodshed… The day I change my name to boo boo the mother*uking fool and tattoo a guy’s name on my body is the same day that that rhetoric will make sense to me. This is not to say that I believe that the police ought to constantly be an arm of the state that uses violence to choke the life out of any civil unrest that warrants critique of the state.. but it just… I mean…
And what prompts me to say this, is well.. a letter sent out by Bheki Cele and Khehla Sitole (National Police Commissioner) to Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, which stated that they will not act on the Constitutional Court order to arrest former president Jacob Zuma pending the outcome of his bid to rescind his 15-month sentence. Um… Yes.
The letter read “In view of the unique situation presented by the development and the legal matrix involved, our clients will, out of respect of the unfolding of litigation the processes [sic], hold further actions they are expected to take in terms of the honourable court’s order, in abeyance.” I have never, until this exact moment, witnessed this amount of social awareness, restraint nor concern about common sense opinions from the police. We live in a dangerous, post-colonial state which has failed on multiple levels to exercise self-reflection and integrity in its relationship with violence, which often reads as reflexive for the police. This level of introspection from the police on a public platform needs to have raised even larger suspicion than it already has. This is a marked deviation from the police’s standard modus operandi. The letter continued stating that, the two aformentioned, will act accordingly on “directions the honourable acting chief justice may possibly issue regarding the conduct of the litigation or any other relevant matter related to the litigation”. This letter was attached to Former President Jacob Zuma’s urgent affidavit handed in to the Pietermaritzburg High Court for the emergency hearing on Tuesday 6 July arguing for the warrant for his arrest to be stayed, pending his application to have his sentence rescinded. There is something dubious and incredibly sus about the current police Minister, and former President actively (at this time) avoiding arrest, having this kind of correspondence. This looks and reads and smells like allegiance… some kind of collusion. It also looks like a signal, a flag raised to those at Nkandla, that their lawlessness is permissible and perhaps even necessary. Something about this smells. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – chances are, it’s a duck.
The High Court holds no authority to up-end a ruling sentenced by a higher court, let alone the Con Court. It can be submitted that this application was a desperate hail mary thrown up, incredibly high by Zuma and caught by no one because God is in quarantine. This urgent application was the final juridical ploy in Zuma’s Stalingrad tactics. I mean Zuma used this letter to contest the operational procedure of the courts, stating that the Con Court does not have greater powers than the high court. I mean besides being in direct contradiction to common sense, Zuma was in contradiction with his own previously articulated beliefs. How can a court, to which he once plead innocence, no longer be equipped to rule on the very same law he had used to plea with? It literally doesn’t make sense. Once again there’s a pattern of punitive revisionism on his behalf and a shocking overreach in trying to leverage the court to grant his stay using the Police’s reluctance as a shield. It’s a duck, okay?
I mean what an obfuscation of the law and what a dangerous play made by the police, in their official power. Zuma argued that the Zondo Comission had no direct interest in the outcome of the urgent application and despite being the litigant in this case, lacked the necessary standing to oppose the relief potentially granted by the state. The same line of argument slapped like a sloppy and soon to mold coat of paint, onto the Helen Suzman Foundation, which was a friend of the court in the Constitutional Court, and also filed papers opposing his high court application.
Conversely, Zuma argued that the minister and commissioner of police had a “direct and pertinent interest” in the matter and had assumed a sensible approach not to oppose his bid to avert arrest given the security threat it plainly poses.
He adds that they would not have adopted this approach without consulting President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“This sensible approach of the relevant state institutions is therefore commendable”
We already established why President Ramaphosa is unable to meaningfully interact with this legal proceeding okay? We know why.
Once again we are also confronted with Zuma’s incredibly jarring thinly-veiled threat. Zuma made mention of how the gathering outside his home in Nkandla could result in “another Marikana massacre”. Pause. This is incredibly, incredibly divisive. Not only is this perhaps one of Ramaphosa’s biggest national plunders to date, but I had also read that exact same sentiment before – stated by Cele. Speaking of the new-found, spectacular, a-characteristic restraint exercised the police at Nkandla almost exactly a week later, Cele stated that ‘“We had to absorb those insults and complaints. The SAPS has learnt through Marikana and we don’t want to go back there,” he said. This is political mirroring.
“There must be very good reasons to do with security issues and the public interest why the ministers, the commissioner and the president have taken a sensible approach to opposing the relief sought in this matter” were Zuma’s exact words. Zuma was brazenly and openly threatening the stability of the state and unfortunately delivered the disaster that these threats were in a suspended state of conjuring.
Cele has also made it known, on 6 July 2021 to be specific, that negotiations pertaining to Zuma’s arrest had been in motion for days and had taken in total 9hrs.
I did not know that the state negotiated with soon-to-be jailed individuals, but apparently we do. I mean I just… at what point do we look towards the police with the suspicion which their behaviour warrants?I personally started looking for them about the time that I tweeted what I twote above. There seemed to be to be a rather odd vacuum that occurred when the looting started, an unholy window had been established for the pro-Zuma loyalists and the police; so visible only days before – suddenly intangible and out of sight. To be honest, there seemed to be a paralysis on the police’s behalf that had rendered them inactive in the initial stages of the looting, immobile in the face of national terror. This mobility seemed inexplicable and only later addressed as a point of under-resourced stations.
This man had been threatening the state security with unnamed unrest for weeks, arguably months, and you’re to tell me no preparation was made? No foresight was applied in the instance of very imminent danger? It would be laughable if this situation weren’t so sad and conspicuous. Zuma had said on numerous occasions, the aforementioned co-signed by the police, that he was about to bring a gun to a knife fight and the police then proceeded to forget even their knives at home. I mean come on.
I think a Daily Maverick article by Omry Makgoale summarizes this vacuum best, reading “When Dobsonville Mall was looted less than a kilometer away from the police station, did the police not see that the mall was being looted? When Jabulani Mall was looted less than 200m away from the Jabulani Police Station, could it mean the police did not see? Or did they not have the resources to prevent the looting?…
Where is the prompt response of the South African police? What happened to mall securities? The Alex Mall was looted a stone’s throw from the magistrates’ court. Is the furniture in the magistrates’ court still safe or was it also looted? What happened to the station commanders of these police stations? Were they waiting for instructions from the national commissioner of police Khehla Sitole or were they waiting for the instructions of Bheki Cele, the minister of police?
What is apparent is that the police take so long to respond as if it is per plan that looters must loot everything before they arrive at the crime scene.”
The impact of the absence of the police was two-fold. This firstly created a vacuum in the perception of state security. The state appeared very visibly and materially weak in the face of its adversary. There is no democratic state which wants to ever be perceived as inept in the face of a very real threat – and beneath Ramaphosa’s governance- the state looked fragile and incapable of asserting much-needed, lawful boundaries. The state appeared to have been simply submerged, almost instantaneously, into an unmanageable almost insurmountable state of chaos. Choas which only metastasized and ran rampant in the face of police inactivity. There appeared to have been an incredible disconnect between what one would imagine as having been the Ramaphosa camps’ response to the looting and the police response. The beginning of this looting spree held up as pro-Zuma loyalists’ reactionary response – when in fact this too was a farce to distract from two things; one an attempted coup d’etat and the second the inescapable magnitude of the law. It can be argued that the law had finally regained some semblance of integrity and power; vehemently denying any ploys to be skirted and out-witted. The courts had withstood intimidation and the denied participation in the court of public opinion – finally, the checks and balances of this state had begun to take effect… and then the country was set alight. We saw a very blatant pivot from one wing of governance the judiciary -having been undefeated and incorruptible- to another, agents of the law completely incapable and invisible. This just isn’t an accident. It’s strategy. In a divisive time, the perception of the capabilities of the state was terrifyingly weakened to a seemingly faceless and vast source of disruption. This brings me to the second point. The absence of law enforcement contributed to a state of lawlessness which was undeniably fuel poured over a very rampant fire.
Lawlessness & Looting:
We live in a post-Apartheid state actively haunted by a hoard of Apartheid’s ghosts that seem to be re-invigorated and full-bodied during moments of crisis, moments that are arguably fundamental or rather stereotypical in the construction of any democracy in its infancy. One of Apartheid’s many ugly ghosts, robust and active hero-worshipped and upheld by many is that of spatial planning. Spatial planning is reinforced by capitalism (that is undeniably upheld by our democratic governance) and underpinned by racial division which was the cornerstone of Apartheid. The idea still exists in practice in many areas that certain spaces belong to certain people – in this country the division of these spaces is racialized and divisive. The absence of an active state-authourized legal body resulted in the emergence of two informal policing bodies. First, the re-reinstatement of self-appointed “policing” bodies [read: armed malitias], who aimed to “protect” certain areas which had not yet succumb to the looting and unrest. Protection was metered out in these areas which are perceived to be affluent and beneath severe threat, despite having experienced no unrest. The first group… um, well there was just a bold re-enactment of Apartheid that is both jarring and incredibly concerning. Groups of armed white militias took to public roads creating blockades and preventing (predominantly) people of colour from entering or utilizing public roads, in a democratic republic. My thoughts on this could constitute a think piece on its own but this behaviour reads unsurprising in so far as the very predominant display of Zulu nationalism, outside the ambit of white capitalist influence or deterrence would have read as a very specific threat towards whiteness which has yet to deflate its privileges and perceived authority over politics post-Apartheid. For white civilian men to be preventing people of colour from accessing certain areas, at will, is whiteness acting on the prevalent existence of their privilege in this country and Apartheid nostalgia made manifest. There was no regard for the dangers of contributing towards lawlessness as white men perceived themselves to be the guardians of the law and uphold a mandate of maintaining it, by simply re-enacting the past and laws which have (not so long since) “perished”. I would like to take this moment to look directly into the camera and de-bunk the narrative of a white genocide with one question “presuming for one second that any validity at all existed in the notion of a white genocide happening… surely at such a delicate time for the presumably rapidly dwindling white community, it would not seem wise to re-enact Apartheid and brandish weapons during a time of severe national unrest, during which they are the minority?” Moving swiftly onwards.
The second group of vigilantes which popped up extended beyond ethnic mobilization and read as community members attempting to restore a semblance of peace and normality. Specifically, and genuinely surprisingly, was the anti-looter sentiment that has been championed by the taxi industry. According to Abner Tsebe, the chair of the South African National Taxi Council who had said that “The taxi industry … strongly warns those with intentions to loot to desist from any attempts as they will find the industry waiting,” said “It is … in our interests to stand against this form of outrageous thuggery.”
South Africa exists as a highly militarized state, in every realm and it is this militarization, ever-ready under normal circumstances that suddenly and inexplicably “seized” that warrants great concern.
Let me just say this, the looting began as a pro-Zuma loyalist, instigated, reactionary response to what many were mislead into believing was a miscarriage of justice – but the looting that ensued on a broad scale after it? Well, that’s a direct response to governmental failings in a very material way. The ANC lead government created economic and social conditions in which an insurrection could take place. A national coup can’t happen in a political landscape where people’s basic needs are being met. Had the government not bastardized all of the allotted COVID-19 relief funds meant for the grants, this entire situation could have been avoided. Had the government been more proactive with the vaccine rollout and ensured that those employed could return to work in a more timely manner – this could have been avoided. Had the government at any point in the last year actually done its job, a coup wouldn’t have been able to take root. Widespread discontentment at the horrifying corruption in government, long-standing party factionalism, opposition parties who use parliament as a performance piece and the continued ill-treatment and villainization of the poor created conditions ripe for a coup.
This second part is one where I’ve had to take my time because trying to stitch all the pieces of this hellscape into something less amorphous and as robust as I believe it to be has been mind-boggling.
The lawlessness that ensued could not happen in isolation – as any functional soverign state we have an intelligence agency. Ironically named at this stage, but we have a state security vessel… where were they? National intelligence is suppossed to pre-empt something as catastrohpic as an insurrection and in a time where the violence, lawlessness and looting have been confirmed as being orchaestrated they have been caught bumbling about doing a whole lot of nothing. Our criminal intelligence unit has an annual budget of $290 000 000 and somehow none of those rescoures, nor any of the manpower committed to this unit could forsee nor prevent the turmoil. It’s simply not believeable. The military took five days to be deployed and initally agreed to deploy 2 500 soilders, which was then increased to 25 000. That five day window, that lapse cost innocent business owners who have not recieved any of the promised SME grants nor governmental assistance their livelihoods and many their very lives. As soon as the looting turned towards arson alarm bells should have rung out through the hallowed halls of government. Arson exceeds the mandate of starvation, it exceeds the desperation which had guided many up until this point to steal. The looting was initally targeted at malls, places such as butcheries and food outlets were the inital hotspots which simply indicates need. Footage showed people leaving malls with essential items in mass, which is why outlets such as Game and Macro were hotspots. As soon as arson began the national sstratergy should have switched. No one compelled by hunger sees the need to destroy blood banks, to ransack national ports, to damage much-needed infastructure and set alight crops. Arson signals malicious intent.
Former security minister Sydney Mufamadi said there were “early warning signals… with the build-up of tension in Nkandla.There was irresponsible talk about a national shutdown. There was ample time for the police and the rest of the security establishment to move ahead of the curve”. Deputy State security minister Zizi Kodwa has confirmed that the intelligence agency had knowledge of a plot to create wide-spread national state instability before the arrest of Jacob Zuma. Kodwa said that intelligence signalled that instigators aimed to disrupt distribution routes, cutting off water, airports and fuel essentially isolating needy communities. In this isolation, community members were going to be leveraged into a grass roots rebellion taking the form of looting. “The plan was just to destroy everything else, there must be agitation and remove this government,” said the deputy minister. This is in response, allegedly, to the Ramaphosa anti-corruption campaign. I say allegedly only because… has this campaign existed alone as theoretical rhetoric or?…. Anyways. According to Kodwa, “they wanted to destabilise the country and they also planned what is called in a right-wing language, a lone wolf must start racial tension and racial war in South Africa”. With the horrors of the Phoneix Massacre, glossed casually over by the President, it can be contended that the aim of creating racial discension was achieved. And achieved to what end?
Bheki Cele, who magically resurfaced in recent days, not only to criminalize blackness in arbitrary seizure of items raided in informal settlements -from civilians who have failed to produce reciepts because apparently that’s where the focus of the police ought to be directed , announced that 12 insigators have been identified as championing the unrest. One of whom is Duduzile Zuma. Hm… I think we’re trapped in a matrix of violent absurdity in this country that I can’t quite find the words for. Poor people are once again being punished for being poor and I just… how is the law suppossed to be followed when it makes no sense? Stretches so far beyond common logic? Like… Cele was probably re-organizing his hat collection during the insurrection but is now suddenly available to re-claim items, allegeding theft and establishing a new precident therefore with recipetlessness? Mind you items seized are, in some reports, going to be “identified” by store owners… or simly kept in warehouses for the forseeable future. The idea that the police can pursue canned fish with this conviction but couldn’t stop the looting when it began? I just… the spectrum of lawlessness is so vast and I… lol ja okay.
So, intelligence has been established around 12 instigators who allegedly championed the insurrection and… how miraculous a discovery, these individuals after the insurrection attempt Cele is suddenly in possession of intel. Okay. As I type this, former radio Host and one of the alleged masterminds Ngizwe Mchunu, is back in the dock at the Randburg Magistrates Court for a formal bail application, after handing himself in to the police in KZN. 6 of the 12 insitgators have been arrested, while state security forces make preperation for a second wave of violence, an assault in the form of the ransacking of weapons depots and police stations. I’m not laughing at the fact that those still instigating a now covert insurrections are brazen enough to attack the police. The police are “preparing” to be attacked… the same polcie who are now busy raiding the homes of civilians? There just seems to be a trickery to it all, a distraction of sorts. We’re looking left, at this political regime criminalizing the poor and arresting looters en masse, while we should perhaps be looking right – at the political masetrminds behind this, whose names largely remain unreleased, whose detention is only alleged at this stage and whose crimes exist as treasonnous. Guys… they planned to attack the police and you’re telling me the police had no knowledge of this?
According to Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, a member of the national asssembly and presidential spokespoerson, “Law enforcement agencies have not shared with us who the possible suspects are. They only share with us the names of those who have been arrested and brief us on court appearances,”. Now while I don’t expect a full release of the docket, there is something dubious about the expectation that law encforcement, who half-created this situation, ought to be trusted to effectively detain the list of suspects. There’s just something ridiculous and particularly bizzare about all of this.
There’s something incredibly difficult about trying to singularize and navigate the deep-seated political complexities that have contributed to the collapse of our state as we know it. There has been a state of desperation experienced by South Africans that has allowed malificence to propser and damage the severly exploited. There is a multi-faceted political battle errupting, in which South African people come second to the greed and corruption that pulls our politicians, compells them to participate in socio-economic war. There are two South Africas, and in an attempt to revolt against the dimished, impoverished, languishing, neglected South Africa writhing against the chokehold of Apartheid infastricture – we have seen a coup. A coup, failed or not, is perhaps the most alarming indicator of a democracy existing in name only and a country starved from consuming rhetoric alone. The post-colony exists as a dissappointment, a promise of a rainbow nation that cannot materially meet its expectations and continues to solidify power in bodies that continue to cripple the poor. In theory, a governments mandate is to serve the pooer, in reality the best ones serve the poor and continue to feed the rich in a tenious equilibrium – in the worst, greed overcomes the mandate of common sense and all suffer. South Africans are wealthy in sufferring and trauma alone, illegitimate power has been amassed by politicians and their kin, and the rest of us – gobsmacked. This is Fanons propechy made manifest and the bitter fruit of a tired oligarchy over-harvested and undercultivated.
Critical theory prompts us, those drowning in pessimism, to seek revolution in emotive dreams and I had dreamed of Zuma’s jail but not the consequences, I had dreamed of a prolitariat revolt without the violence and now in an imagination made bitter with reality I dream of the collapse of an oligarchy, the roar of the youth’s voice welcomed in parliament and the dissolution of the blood-stained rainbow nation.