Cops ‘not overwhelmed’ by Soweto protests

Police say looting is not organised, but crime intelligence is hunting for the instigators.

Police Commissioner Lesetja Mothiba and his team brief the media in the wake of violent Soweto protests on 23 January 2015. Picture: Alex Eliseev/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - With more than 120 people now in custody over ongoing attacks and looting in Soweto and beyond, police say they're not overwhelmed by the situation and are determined to stop further violence.

Gauteng Police Commissioner Lesetja Mothiba briefed media in Soweto this morning after this week's looting in areas including White City and Meadowlands where police had to disperse crowds with rubber bullets.

It appears the violence was triggered by the shooting of a 14-year-old boy accused of attempting to rob a foreign shop owner in Doornkop.

Two people, including the teenager have been confirmed dead, while 120 people have been arrested so far, most of them for public violence.

They will be appearing in court today.

Mothiba says police are not in over their heads.

"The police are not being overwhelmed. Last night we reported that we called in reinforcements from all over the province. The public must understand the type of situation we are dealing with."

But the commissioner has urged officers to keep their cool.

"Of particular importance is that we don't want our members to use their firearms unnecessarily. We're having our members trained in public order policing and it's only them who will be in a position to deal with issues of public disorder."

Mothiba says the looting is not organised and is nothing more than groups of criminals picking targets and attacking them.

But at the same time, the commissioner says crime intelligence is being used to find those who are instigating these acts.

Mothiba was forced to defend his officers against reports that some took part in the looting or failed to intervene to stop it.

He says strong action will be taken against those found to have been involved.

The police's deployment plan for today factors in the possibility of school children joining the looting after the final bell has rung.

A police officer is also facing criminal charges and disciplinary action for allegedly taking part in the looting of shops in Soweto.

The officer was captured on video helping himself to a toilet roll from a foreign owned shop which was being looted in Dobsonville.

Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane says police are dealing with the matter.

"The disciplinary processes are being followed and he is definitely going to be formally charged."


Soweto residents say they're concerned about the number of illegal firearms that youngsters have managed to get hold of.

Police have confiscated a number of firearms since the looting started on Monday.

Residents say the teenagers in this area are not just taking drugs, like nyope, but are also in possession of guns.

A shop owner, who was attacked yesterday, says she was held at gunpoint.

"They had guns, one of them was yelling at us, 'Move, move, move'."

It's unclear where the youngsters were able to get firearms from, but parents say they're concerned that unemployment and poverty are some of the reasons behind the violence.

It's quiet this morning, with several police cars patrolling the area with their sirens blaring through the suburbs.

Shops are closed or abandoned, but there are still fears that there'll be more violence later today.

At the same time, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu's) Zwelinzima Vavi says the looting of foreign owned shops in Soweto and other parts is "completely embarrassing" and has condemned the criminal acts .

"Violence directed against anyone is just wrong whether it's foreign or national persons it doesn't matter. We're calling on the police to take firm action, but to be even handed and not to exacerbate any situation."


A shop owner in the Moroka area has told Eyewitness News he's not expecting any more looting today because those who went on the rampage yesterday have taken everything.

"There's nothing left," the man said looking at his store front and the street outside littered with the remains of his stock.

But police are not taking any chances.

Hotspots have been flooded with officers and reinforcements have been called in from neighbouring suburbs.

A group of tactical response officers has just stood for their morning parade.

Their orders are simple: respond to as many complaints as you get and "contain this thing."