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Former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/RAPPORT/DEAAN VIVIER.
Former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/RAPPORT/DEAAN VIVIER.

KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Lt-Gen Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi went on paternity leave and was reluctant to share information with former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her executive, during the July unrest.

Mapisa-Nqakula testified at the SA Human Rights Commission hearings into July’s riots and looting in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng on Monday, mentioning “egos” and an alleged lack of co-operation by Mkhwanazi and the police.

She said she was forced to deploy generals instead of colonels due to “an ego”.

When she arrived in KwaZulu-Natal during the unrest, she was confused when Mkhwanazi withheld information at a meeting and “spoke about a challenge” that had nothing to do with the riots.

She said she had had daily conversations with President Cyril Ramaphosa from July 9, when the riots and looting erupted, and they decided that the army would not be deployed.

However, on July 11, Ramaphosa called her with a request to deploy the SA National Defence Force to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, where the riots had resulted in deaths, devastation and chaos.

She then contacted police minister Bheki Cele to ask him to send a letter in accordance with legal protocols for deployment of the army.

“The defence force is trained for crowd control. It is not trained to prevent people from committing crimes. The manner in which they have been trained is such that it is easy to find a situation where, instead of stopping what they are supposed to do, transgressions are committed, particularly because for some reason among our people in our communities, people get very excited when they see soldiers and they provoke them, just to see how they react. And this is the reason we made sure there had to be proper processes.

“You don’t just wake up and deploy. You think through reasons. You must know exactly why you are deploying the military. It must be a request from the police after a proper assessment has been done.

“And once the police decide, they make a request through the minister of defence, and, of course, the minister writes a letter, which is co-signed by the ministers of police and defence, for the attention of the president. So at that point, even the commander in chief himself [the president] ... cannot just take a decision on the basis of the letter,” she said.

However, soon after Mapisa-Nqakula and Ramaphosa decided that the army should not be deployed, the president called for soldiers on the ground. 

Mapisa-Nqakula told the commission that at that stage the police had not called for the army. After her conversation with Ramaphosa, she contacted Cele to co-sign the letter calling for the army. She said the starting point for the deployment was at key points, because the police believed they could “manage crowd control”.

The commission also heard that soldiers were deployed at oil refineries in Richards Bay and trade routes between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Two water cannon were used to disperse crowds, the commission was told on Monday. The commission asked Gauteng police commissioner Lt-Gen Elias Mawela to repeat the number, when he testified that only two water cannon were used.

“For the whole province of Gauteng?” he was asked. Mawela replied that the province only had two water cannon. He said in an ideal world he would like to have 10 water cannon, two for each of the five units in the province. Mawela testified that 869 teargas canisters were launched by police in Gauteng, 312 stun grenades were used, and 16,971 shotgun bullets were fired by officers during the unrest.

“Within the public-order police, they were adequately resourced in terms of arms and ammunition but there were times at other police stations where they would run out of rubber bullets, but it didn't mean that as a province, we didn't have. The stations that ran out were able to get support from other stations.”

The scope of the hearing on the unrest, which began in Durban last Monday, includes apparent racially motivated killings, the lack of law enforcement, the role of private security companies, the targeting of retail outlets and businesses, and speculation that the unrest and looting were orchestrated. The hearing continues.