The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has released its report into the July 2021 unrest that unfolded mainly in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), during which some 350 people reportedly lost their lives.
The violence and destruction also caused damage to infrastructure and businesses costing South Africa’s economy an estimated R50 billion, with thousands of jobs either being lost or affected.
Speaking at the release of the report, SAHRC Commissioner Philile Ntuli said the commission found that myriad factors contributed to the outbreak of destruction and violence during the riots.
“The violence and destruction were symptomatic of unresolved systemic conditions, including post-COVID19 economic recovery, high unemployment, lawlessness, discrimination, socio-economic divides, and issues within the security sector.
“The Commission concluded that organised groups and individuals opportunistically exploited these conditions to attempt to usurp the rule of law,” Ntuli said.
The SAHRC Commissioner described the unrest as a well-orchestrated and a “violent culmination of deep-rooted political and social challenges” that South Africa had been facing, adding that it was largely attributed to typologies of organisation and orchestration of public discord, crime and protest.
“Evidence indicated that the acts during the unrest were well-orchestrated, including the blocking of the N3 national route, destruction of factories and warehouses, attack on government communication facilities, and bombing and theft of ATMs. These events were interconnected and required significant resources.
“Two types of actors were identified during the unrest: primary actors, who led and executed widespread destruction, and secondary actors, who participated in theft. The timing of the events coincided with the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma, leading to a perception that the two were related,” Ntuli said.
While evidence suggests that the unrest was well orchestrated, the Commission highlighted that it “did not receive clear evidence identifying specific groups or individuals as primary actors, while… the common purpose or intention behind the unrest remained unclear.”