Johannesburg – Security cluster ministers, including Police Minister Bheki Cele, commended the communities across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that have banded together to fight off looters, but issued a stern warning that they must not take the law into their own hands.
He said it was important for communities to be active in the protection of their properties and communities, but they needed to work with law enforcement agencies on the ground.
Armed members of the community have taken it upon themselves to protect their neighbours and homes, while businesspeople have also armed themselves and stood guard outside their businesses across the two volatile provinces.
A total of 757 people have been arrested for looting and participating in the destruction of property in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal so far, reported Police Minister Bheki Cele at a media briefing on Tuesday morning.
In KwaZulu-Natal, a total of 304 people have been arrested while 453 were arrested in Gauteng.
Cele reported that there have been 10 fatalities so far, while four police officers were injured.
SAPS members who were on leave or on rest days have also been recalled to return to work urgently.
He said the current situation on the ground was under “strong” surveillance.
“We cannot allow anyone to make a mockery of our democratic state and we have instructed the law enforcement agencies to double their efforts to stop the violence and to increase deployment on the ground,” Cele said.
Ministers from the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) also commended the community groups who have taken a stand and are continuing to protect their communities.
“As Cluster of Ministers, we are encouraged and heartened by the outpouring of messages also on social media platforms by South Africans from all communities and walks of life, who are saying that the wanton destruction of property such as shops, malls, taxis, trucks and other transport infrastructure will not be destroyed in their name.”
The security ministers have also issued a stern warning to those circulating inflammatory messages on various social media platforms which are aimed at inciting violence and disregard of the law.
The Cybersecurity Act states that any person who “unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes, by means of a computer system, a data message to a specific person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite violence, or call people to be involved in the destruction of any property belonging to people, is guilty of an offence”.
Those who engage in such acts will be liable for a criminal offence and can receive a fine or be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.
The ministers said that the security cluster was monitoring all social media platforms and we are tracking those who were sharing false information and calling for civil disobedience.
“We are engaging the different platforms to track and trace the origins of inflammatory posts and messages inciting violence, and have requested that these be taken down with immediate effect,” Cele said.
He also warned that if these acts of violence continued unabated, the affected provinces run the risk of running out of basic foodstuffs, which would be “disastrous”.