Officials concede SA’s intelligence failed to pre-empt xenophobic attacks

Thousands of hostel dwellers armed with sticks and knobkerries marched on the Johannesburg CBD, looting shops and vandalising property.

Plainclothes police chase looters in Alexandra, Johannesburg on 3 September 2019. Picture: Bonga Dlulane/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Government has conceded that the country’s intelligence has failed to pre-empt the ongoing xenophobic attacks.

Thousands of hostel dwellers armed with sticks and knobkerries marched on the Johannesburg CBD, looting shops and vandalising property on Sunday.

Two people have been killed, bringing to 12 the number of casualties from the attacks since last week.

Earlier on Monday, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who is also the chair of the justice, crime prevention and security cluster, told 702 that the country’s intelligence had failed to pre-empt the xenophobic violence.

"When this started last week, I'm one of the people who said there has been a failure of intelligence," Mapisa-Nqakula said. "The acts are not just sporadic. When you get intelligence, it is meant to guide you, it is meant to help you conduct your operations. What we've seen here is criminality."

Police Commissioner General Khehla Sithole also spoke to the radio station and agreed with Mapisa-Nqakula.

"There must have been shortcomings on their side [and] they were not proactive enough," he said.

Even Police Minister Bheki Cele on Monday said there was a lapse in intelligence.

"I agree that there are some areas where we did not act quickly, yet the information would have been there..."

This costly failure in the country’s security system has not only led to the deaths of 12 people, but also loss of business and reputational harm for South Africa.

The government said it had intensified intelligence in Gauteng and insisted it was in control after admitting that it failed to anticipate the ongoing xenophobic attacks.

Sithole said steps were being taken to strengthen intelligence in the province.

“We have issued instructions to intensify the intelligence and deploy more of them,” he said.

WATCH: We weren’t proactive - SAPS top cop Khehla Sitole on xenophobic attacks


Meanwhile, South African businesses with interests across the continent said they were not panicked by calls for the takeover of their operations in retaliation to attacks on foreign nationals.

Last week, Nigeria’s governing party the All Progressive Congress urged its government to nationalise South African businesses operating in the west-African country. Telecoms giant MTN and pay-tv operator MultiChoice said they were not alarmed by the fallout from the crisis.

Addressing the media on Monday after a meeting with the police’s top brass in Johannesburg, the business leaders said they had faith in the strength of diplomatic relations between South Africa and its African counterparts.

MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter said: “Official communication from the office of President [Muhammadu] Buhari - which was communicated through the Department of International Relations late last week - was that they are supporting the South African businesses [and] assisting them to secure their assets. We’ve received tremendous cooperation from the police and security forces in Nigeria during the course of last week.”

However, MultiChoice said the xenophobic violence in the country has harmed its brand across the continent.

The company delivers its services to 49 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

CEO Calvo Mawela said MultiChoice was yet to calculate the financial losses.

“We had to close for four days last week which really impacts on our ability to get customers connected or reconnected because they usually reconnect on a day-to-day basis. It has got a knock-on effect in terms of how they look at our brands and how the sentiments are going to be going forward.”

Businesses also committed to working closely with the government to find long-term solutions to the attacks, which they agreed were rooted in mass unemployment.