Cele defends police inaction as Zuma supporters flouted COVID rules in Nkandla

Law enforcement has been widely criticised for allowing the Nkandla super spreader to go ahead in direct violation of level 4 lockdown restrictions, which ban all gatherings with the aim to curb COVID-19 infections.

Supporters gesture as they gather in front of former South African president Jacob Zuma’s rural home in Nkandla on July 4, 2021. On July 3, 2021, hundreds of supporters gathered to show solidarity for former South African president Jacob Zuma outside his Nkandla homestead, as the deadline looms for him to surrender to the authorities. Picture: Emmanuel Croset / AFP

JOHANNESBURG/NKANDLA - Police Minister Bheki Cele has tried to explain why officers did not arrest former President Jacob Zuma supporters outside his Nkandla home by pointing out there were more than 100 armed people in attendance.

Law enforcement has been widely criticised for allowing the Nkandla super spreader to go ahead in direct violation of level 4 lockdown restrictions, which ban all gatherings with the aim to curb COVID-19 infections.

Cele said it was not that officers were scared, but they were drawing on lessons from the Marikana massacre.

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He said it was a dangerous situation.

“[It’s not that] Police there did not retreat because they were scared. We had a lot of cops, there were about 200 cops. When special forces get there and someone who is reckless, has no responsibility whatsoever and wants to cause chaos… we’re not going to be sucked in in the chaos of the people.”

Cele said, however, just because no arrests were carried out at the weekend, it didn’t mean no one would be handcuffed.

“We’re working with the channels to have the data there. We have sent extra detectives to work on those things and we will be picking out people. Just because we didn’t pick them on that day, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to.”

The mass gatherings outside Zuma's home have left ordinary South Africans furious, with many asking why police allowed so many people to break lockdown regulations.

The police's Vish Naidoo said officers had increased their presence in the province to respond to anyone undermining the regulations.

“During the deployment, SAPS commanders and members on the ground had been provided clear and concise directives that responses to any and all situations must be informed by proper analysis. To this end, every situation will be assessed and dealt with on its own merit. Organising or being part of gatherings will also result in people being fined, jailed, or both.”

Acting Health Minister Mmamaloko-Khubayi said on social media that she shuddered at the thought of the after effect of the Nkandla gathering with the current Delta variant driving the third wave of infections.

At the same time, the minister said the SAPS wouldn’t "rush" to arrest Zuma.

Zuma announced last night that he won't be going to jail as ordered by the Constitutional Court, pending an application in the Pietermaritzburg High Court as he tries to stop the start of his jail sentence.

Cele said they were waiting for the court to give clarity.

“We hope that we’ll be getting the clarification because they were giving the sentence, there were no other legal activities taking place.”

COVID-19 REGULATIONS FLAUTED

Zuma has refused to condemn flagrant disregard of COVID-19 regulations by his supporters outside his Nkandla homestead over the past week.

He addressed the media on Sunday night from his homestead, where he criticised a Constitutional Court judgement that sentenced him to a 15-month jail term for being in contempt of court, referring to it as unjust.

He said he would not be held accountable for his supporters' actions because they were responding to an unfair application of the law.

After Zuma was handed down his sentence last Tuesday, scores of supporters sympathetic to him flocked to his Nkandla homestead.

Many of Zuma's supporters were seen not wearing masks with very little social distancing being observed outside his KwaDakudunuse homestead.

Zuma - who was also seen not wearing a mask during at least three public appearances - said his supporters were just expressing their feelings.

“The reaction of the people tells the story that they’re not happy with what the court has done, which I think must tell all of us that we must always do things correctly, we must not provoke people.”

He said he also felt aggrieved by the court's decision to incarcerate him and called on his lawyers to make sure that justices of the Constitutional Court recognised the errors in their judgement.

SUPPORTERS MOBILISING AGAIN

Supporters of the former president said they were already mobilising ahead of his appearance in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday.

Zuma has previously said he is not afraid of going to jail. But he now said incarcerating him during the COVID-19 pandemic was tantamount to subjecting him to a death sentence.

One of his supporters is Nkosentsha Shezi from group calling itself the Radical Economic Transformation Champions said: “Tens of thousands of people will be in Pietermaritzburg and I can also assure you that throughout the length and breadth of South Africa, people are expressing their anger and solidarity with the people’s president.”

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has agreed to hear Zuma's rescission application on 12 July.

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