'We were unaware July 2021 unrest would escalate to that level' — Lamola
Justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola on Thursday said it was concerning that not one “mastermind” had been jailed in connection with the July unrest which caused about R50bn damage and claimed more than 300 lives.
A task team was in place to track and prosecute the culprits.
“Hopefully, they will arrest the masterminds and plotters,” said Lamola, adding that arresting people who had looted did not address the core issue.
“It is important that the masterminds, the plotters, the ringleaders get arrested, as this will serve as a deterrent and send a message [to others thinking of doing the same].”
He was testifying before the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which is probing the unrest that erupted after the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma. Lamola appeared before the commission virtually.
Lamola joined the chorus of government officials who have testified that they were
unaware of intelligence information apparently shared with the national joint operational and intelligence structure before the riots and looting.
The justice ministry also sits on the structure.
“I can state that I have no knowledge of early warnings, its nature and characteristics.”
Lamola, however, conceded that the signs “of a ticking time bomb” were there as there had been a build-up of service delivery protests and looting incidents over the years.
No-one could have guessed it would have been of that magnitudeJustice minister Ronald Lamola
“We were unaware that it would escalate to that level. No-one could have guessed it would have been of that magnitude.”
Commissioners quizzed him about a report compiled for President Cyril Ramaphosa by a panel of experts. The report stated that intraparty factional battles may have played a part in the unrest, but no high-profile people had been arrested and linked to the unrest.
Lamola said he was concerned about this, but he could not tell the police or National Prosecuting Authority who to arrest.
He pledged arrests should be implemented regardless of political affiliation, race or gender.
Asked whether the lack of arrests and convictions of the masterminds undermined his office, Lamola said no.
If anything, arresting Zuma “reaffirmed the rule of law and showed that no-one is above the law”.
Earlier, Lamola said his ministry believed transparency over Zuma’s incarceration would have quashed people’s concerns and fears.
They tried to show he was being treated in a dignified and humane way.
Despite this, unrest broke out, leading to mass destruction of infrastructure.
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