KZN protests: Ramaphosa calls on communities to stop undermining rule of law
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Durban - President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on communities in KZN to stop undermining the rule of law and inflicting damage on the economy.
Ramaphosa’s call comes after sporadic violence and destruction ravaged the province by protesters who are calling for the release of former president Jacob Zuma from the Estcourt Correctional Centre where he is serving his 15-month sentence.
“The impact of public violence against the road freight industry and damage to freeways that serve as economic arteries will be felt also by the people organising and committing these crimes. The reasons allegedly advanced for the violence in KwaZulu-Natal cannot be used to legitimise vandalism and public violence,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa added that the Constitution protects the right to protest but protest cannot be abused to break the law or to destroy property and threaten livelihoods. Criminal elements must be met with the full might of the law.
Several areas in the province plunged into chaos with the M7, N2 and N3 being affected.
KZN police spokesperson Jay Naicker said law enforcement officers had been deployed to all districts in KZN and were on high alert.
He said protesters had set alight more than 20 trucks near Mooi River, a town on the N3 highway that leads from Durban to Johannesburg, and shops had been looted in Mooi River and eThekwini, the municipality that includes Durban. In other areas vehicles had been stoned.
He said the N3 near the Mooi River Toll Plaza would remain closed indefinitely.
Naicker said 27 people were arrested and charged with public violence, malicious damage to property, theft, housebreaking and contravention of the Disaster Management Act.
“We will not tolerate such lawlessness and incidents of criminality so we will be dealing harshly with those found flouting the law," he said.
Naicker said additional forces from other provinces have been brought in and all police in the province were on high-alert.
Pule Mabe, national spokesperson for the ANC, said the ruling party was concerned about the ongoing violence in KZN.
Mabe said the provincial and the national executive committees had sent deployees to KZN to intervene and engage structures and relevant stakeholders.
“The destruction of property and infrastructure and looting that accompany these violent protests must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.The ANC recognises and respects the rights of every South African to protest peacefully and to freely express their views on any matter of concern. However, in exercising their constitutional rights, citizens must respect the rights of others and refrain from breaking the law or using violence. We are concerned that the destruction of property and impeding the functioning of the economy will undermine efforts to create jobs and improve the lives of citizens.”
Mabe also told a news channel that Premier Sihle Zikalala’s call for a presidential pardon on Zuma’s behalf was out of order and that the ANC should not interfere with the judiciary as it was an independent state organ.
Nigel Ward, president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called for Ramaphosa to declare a state of emergency for KZN and deploy the SANDF to assist and protect communities and businesses.
"The logistics sector has been hit hard after trucks were burnt and destroyed. The disruptions will be very damaging to economic infrastructure and further protests will simply worsen the situation. We can expect to see a delay in large projects with the different sectors, mainly infrastructure, potential disinvestment, and delayed foreign direct investment. Investors are constantly seeking investment destinations with minimum risk and high returns; this will undoubtedly impact the country's risk profile," said Ward.
He said the road to recovery would be long and the government would need to work to regain the trust of the business community.
National police spokesperson Major-General Mathapelo Peters said no requests for military deployment in the province had yet been made.
Road Freight Association CEO Gavin Kelly said it had been a terrible 24 hours for the industry - some operators said they might have to lay off staff due to the damage.
“This activity has targeted people who had nothing to do with this whole issue. There are operators who are losing millions, not only their assets but in terms of the contracts and the goods on those vehicles because somebody has to pay for them and at the end of the day you and I are going to have to pay because goods are going to be expensive,” he said.
Steve Harris, the general secretary of the United National Transport Union, said they condemned the destruction of trucks by protesters.
He denounced the ongoing violence and disorder aimed at the industry, which he said was an attempt to drum up a spectacle.
Sifiso Nyathi, general secretary of the All Truck Drivers Foundation, said while he sympathised with Zuma he condemned the vandalism and destruction of trucks.
"We are all living in fear and scared that we could be killed. We are all just trying to survive and put food on our table and we plead for protesters to not take out their frustrations on us. If you destroy a truck or kill a driver you destroy the economy. We are still people, we have told our drivers to just run if they are in danger because their life and safety is more valuable than profits," he said.
Mary de Haas, KZN violence monitor, said the current escalation in violent protests was worrying because their nature cannot be predicted.
De Haas said there was a combination of issues driving the protests and that a deliberate destabilisation by Zuma supporters was clear.
“At the same time there is a lot of discontent about service delivery that was happening before this week's events. The Zuma supporters who want to cause trouble are capitalising on the poverty and hunger blaming President Ramaphosa for not giving them an extension in unemployment grants, that's how desperate people are,” she said.