Mail & Guardian
Looting ‘was just the first phase’
Sources suggest the protests were not spontaneous, and state assets are next in line
The looting is only the beginning. According to four sources in politics and intelligence who spoke to the Mail & Guardian, the unrest that led to the looting and burning of thousands of shops and malls was only the first stage.
A week ago, messages began circulating that the country should be brought to its knees because former president Jacob Zuma was jailed.
Sources confirmed that the attacks on infrastructure that began last weekend were carefully planned and coordinated, and more would follow.
A source close to Zuma told the M&G that it would be wise to remember that the instigators are soldiers. They know where to hit and how to plan economic sabotage.
“The plan was not for the looting but to hit the white capital that supports [President Cyril] Ramaphosa so that they will go to him and say: ‘Stop what you are doing. This is hurting us now.’ They will now strike where they don’t expect it. Zuma must be released, and Ramaphosa must go,” said the source.
According to an ANC national executive committee (NEC) leader, Ramaphosa was warned by intelligence that this was the first phase of a programme that aims to destabilise the country. The NEC member said they were told that the instigators are equipped with heavy machinery and the looting is only phase one.
“This is what we are hearing. The second phase is to burn resources,” said the source.
He said that phase one was cutting off the food supply and that once people were hungry and calling for the government to help, they would start attacking resources.
“They will be able to wage a serious war and hide behind the people. They can mobilise the masses if people are hungry … A serious military operation is yet to come. Once you disrupt Soweto, you have the attention of the country and the world,” they said.
Another leader in the ANC said that the NEC was alerted to possible unrest prior to it starting. The leader said Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo gave a dossier to Police Minister Bheki Cele and the president two days before the unrest.
“We knew. This thing could have been avoided. We were told and we did nothing. There is no way Ramaphosa can say he was not aware. This was discussed in the NEC and he knew about it going to the national working committee. Ayanda is not lying. She told Bheki and [police commissioner Khehla] Sitole and they sat on it.”
However, the NEC source said, the ANC was cautious about referring to the unrest as a coup d’état. “It’s not a coup, but it may lead there. These people know the area, they are trained in the military and some of them have held high offices in state intelligence and the military.” Some of the military and police resources were now looking at securing Eskom power plants, including the Medupi power station, the source said.
Stoking a ‘race war’
Meanwhile, the unrest machinery in Kwazulu-natal has been stoking underlying racial tensions in the province, which has been the centre of the riots and instability. An intelligence community source in Kwazulu-natal said they were concerned about the upsurge in disinformation aimed at increasing racial tensions, particularly in the Phoenix and Tongaat areas.
They had intercepted several voice notes claiming that Indians were attacking black people in the Inanda area, including claiming that 11 young boys had been murdered and calling for black people living in the south Durban area to invade the area and avenge their deaths.
“There has been an increase in the amount of this. It looks like the instigators are now moving from mobilising people to loot to inflating racial tensions. We have passed this onto the Hawks for action. They are busy tracing where the messages are coming from,” the source said.
Another source close to the former president predicted that racial tension would flare in Kwazulu-natal in response to the strong reaction from Indian communities who tried to protect their property and businesses from looting.
“They hate the Indians,” he said. An intelligence source said: “This is much more than just attacking Indians, judges houses, government buildings and the like. This is far from over. It can only be resolved if and when the master minds are arrested.”
“They are preparing to escalate their campaign. The talk is that the first assault was highly impactful and successful. Judges are at risk, water infrastructure and so on.”
Whatsapp group instigators
The morning after Zuma was arrested, a Mr G, whose name is known to the M&G, created the socalled Durban Shutdown Whatsapp group. Dozens of members were added via invite links.
The ire of the members is palpable, with active users laying the blame at Ramaphosa’s door for Zuma’s arrest, as well as for the expected violence.
But those found to have participated in Whatsapp groups have either denied their involvement in the looting or claimed not to have sent any messages.
Mthokozisi Gwala, who appeared as “Ngiyikunzi Yohlobo” in the group, allegedly wrote, in isizulu, that there should not be any hesitation and that his comrades should “do what’s necessary”.
He added that each “comrade” should cause chaos in their respective Durban areas. Speaking to the
M&G, Gwala conceded that he was part of the group but said he did not send any messages, did not know why he was added to it and did not know the reasons for its creation.
“I am still in the group because I haven’t had a chance to exit due to a lack of data. To be honest, my brother, I don’t know who started the group and why. You are calling the wrong person,” he said.
Another member, Dumah Coba, said that Ramaphosa had “sold out” the ANC. On the group, Coba, using a crude isizulu term to refer to a small dog, further urged for a “fight to turn Durban upside down”.
To the M&G, Coba conceded she was part of the group but denied she had commented.
“I was added to the group and I wanted to exit it. Unfortunately, I did not have any data, like I don’t have data now, to exist in the group,” she said. She then became aggressive, saying she did not know whether she was speaking with a police officer or a journalist before dropping the call.
Nhlanhla Ndlovu wrote that he was sure if members turned up in their numbers, the police would not stop them. But to the M&G he denied any knowledge of the group, instead saying:“someone must have stolen my number. This kind of stuff happens all the time. I am going to have to go to MTN now and ask them.”
Nolitha Lelanga, who appeared to have supported calls for the closure of the N2 and N3, both of which were engulfed in flames from burning trucks and infrastructure, said she had been part of the Whatsapp group, but left it soon after she became aware that the advocacy of violence was escalating.
Lelanga, who said she was a branch member of the ANC in Lamontville, said she realised that the group went beyond party issues and the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma.
“This thing is bigger than you think. I am against the burning of property and against the looting. The shutdown that I know is that you toyi-toyi and you block the roads. There is no vandalising,” she said.
She added that the leaders of the Whatsapp group, whom she refused to name, were meeting in secret and did not fully detail their plans in the group when she was still a member.
Another member who also admitted to having participated in the group is Jefferey Mzobe.
“I left the group on Tuesday when they wanted to burn down shops. I realised that it was beyond what we were planning to do. It’s not a crime to want to shut down the freeway,” he said. Mzobe explained that he has since exited the group and deleted it.
Others whose numbers were on the Whatsapp group flatly denied that they were even part of it, saying other people must have used their cellphone numbers.
The ANC national leadership has instructed the province to forward information on all those who had been involved in participating in the wave of violence and looting. The ANC Kwazulu-natal provincial secretary, Bheki Ntuli, said the party was aware of the social media accounts being used to coordinate attacks and looting.
A provincial executive committee (PEC) member in Kwazulu-natal told the M&G that the escalating violence in the province had exposed the major divide within its provincial leadership.
“There are some in the PEC who are happy because this unrest speaks to undermining the authority of Ramaphosa. The intention has been for him to release the police and the military and cause a massacre. That failed,” the PEC member said.
The provincial leader added that Kwazulu-natal Premier Sihle Zikalala was feeling the pressure over the “inaction” of the police and the intelligence agencies.
“He has ambitions like any other of a higher office and this is tainting his image. What is also causing Sihle to become frustrated is the rift between Bheki Cele and [police commissioner Khehla] Sitole. Their rift has cost us. When one gives an instruction, the other does not listen.”
A senior NEC member told the M&G that Ramaphosa was also frustrated at ministers Dlodlo and Cele.
For instance, in Ekurhuleni, which was also the scene of violent looting and destruction, officers allegedly received orders to stand down and not to react when the violence began.
“That is why officers only arrived when the sun came out after Chris Hani Mall was burnt, just to secure the area and not shoot at people. These orders are from the political principal [Cele] and not from Sitole because the minister gave orders that there should not be any loss of life,” said a highly placed source.