Special Police Unit Probes Mayhem in South Africa’s Capital

  • Five die in protests sparked by outrage over mayoral candidate
  • Looters targeted shops in five townships around Pretoria

A special police investigative unit is helping track down those responsible for three days of violence and looting in townships around South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, that were sparked by outrage over the ruling party’s choice of mayoral candidate for Aug. 3 local government elections.

“We are looking into the cause and the people behind the protests,” Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the unit, known as the Hawks, said by phone on Thursday. “We are concerned about what has transpired and who are the people who have orchestrated this violence.”

Supporters of the ruling African National Congress began burning tires and barricaded roads on June 20 after the party nominated lawmaker Thoko Didiza, a former minister of agriculture and public works, as its candidate for mayor of the Tshwane municipality, which includes Pretoria, instead of incumbent Kgosientso Ramokgopa. The unrest occurs at a time of mounting discontent over a lack of basic services and a series of scandals implicating President Jacob Zuma.

Death Toll

Five people have died in the unrest and police have arrested 150 people in connection with crimes including public violence, burglary, theft and the possession of suspected stolen property, according to the Government Communication and Information Service.

“Government is making notable progress in stabilizing and stamping out acts of criminality in and around the City of Tshwane,” it said in an e-mailed statement Thursday. “A number of suspects who appeared in court today were denied bail. Law enforcement agencies will not rest until peace and calm is restored. ”

Stores in the Mamelodi, Atteridgeville, Shoshanguve, Mabopane and Garankuwa areas were looted, while at least 20 buses and several other vehicles were torched.

Unrest Areas Near Pretoria

Simon Modihe, 38, an unemployed resident of the Hammanskraal area, was among the fatalities. He was shot on June 19 during a scuffle while attending a meeting at the Pretoria Show Grounds where ANC leaders informed party members of Didiza’s nomination, according to his cousin, Victor Lekalakala.

Some ANC supporters are “very fragile, very young,” Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, a senior party leader, said at a memorial service for Modihe Thursday. “We need to educate our membership that this is not the first time that an ANC official has been removed from office. It has happened in the past, and affected even presidents who were recalled from office.”

Calm Prevails

The ANC said its members were working with the police to restore order.

“There is no looting, there is calm everywhere in the city today,” David Makhura, premier of the central Gauteng province that includes Pretoria and Johannesburg, told reporters Thursday. “The looting is something that is of great concern to us. Our members on the ground are working tirelessly to ensure wherever there is an incident they will intervene.”

While there had been differences between Ramokgopa and his deputy Mapiti Matsena, both men and ANC structures in Tshwane united behind Didiza’s candidacy, said Paul Mashatile, the party’s chairman in Gauteng.

Opinion Poll

“I don’t think the latest incidents reflect the sentiments of the communities in Tshwane,” Didiza said. “It is sad that our communities, no matter of what level of disgruntlement, can engage in acts of violence and destruction.”

A June 20-21 eNCA poll of 1,509 potential voters in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay showed the ANC lagging the Democratic Alliance in all three municipalities in the Aug. 3 vote. The DA had 36 percent support in Tshwane, the ANC 27 percent and the Economic Freedom Fighters 9 percent, the broadcaster said. The poll, which was done by research company Ipsos, didn’t fully take account of the violence.

“It is clear that upcoming local elections will continue to be tainted by outbursts of unrest,” Ruth Bookbinder, an Africa analyst at Bath, England-based risk consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, said by e-mail. “South Africa is locked into a vicious circle, with deteriorating investor confidence undermining job creation, economic grievances fueling civil unrest and deteriorating security further alarming investors.”

The cabinet condemned the violence and called on citizens to refrain from breaking the law and violent protests.

“No amount of grievance can justify violence and the destruction of property,” it said in an e-mailed statement. “Those found guilty of perpetrating such criminal acts will face the full might of the law.”

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