The looting is “orchestrated”, said Bheki Cele, the country’s police minister. “Is this a Jacob Zuma-linked coup attempt?” screams a headline in the Citizen newspaper. Former President Jacob Zuma was jailed last week for contempt of court after failing to answer corruption allegations, sparking first a relatively small highway protest, before the country erupted into an orgy of looting.
With 25,000 army soldiers pouring out onto South Africa’s troubled streets, a government minister claimed looting incidents had dropped to “only” 39 Thursday afternoon. However, after sunset at least two more major shopping malls were torched in the worst-affected city, Durban.
Significantly, police arrested an alleged instigator, claimed to be behind the looting and violence. This person is one of 12 reportedly identified by security intelligence officials as responsible for coordinating the attacks. Investigators are looking at WhatsApp and Telegram messages which appear to show a coordinated effort to mount the attacks, Fox News has learned.
A South African TV network claimed Police Minister Cele “says the violence is part of an orchestrated plan being executed by spooks tied to Jacob Zuma.”
Cele’s spokesperson told Fox News she doesn’t recollect the minister saying precisely that, but Deputy State Security Minister Zizi Kodwa stated: “There are a number of names that has (sic) been brought to us. We are looking at those former [State Security] members … who could be connected to this destabilization.”
He added: “You could see this operation is ran by people who have ran operations before.”
On television, Cele chipped in: “This thing of looting is a smokescreen. It’s far beyond that, in terms of criminality happening. So it does look like a crime against the state.”
An ex-bodyguard to former President Zuma is reportedly one of those under suspicion of instigating the looting. Two of Zuma’s offspring have advocated at the least protest on social media. In a video Thursday, Zuma’s son Duduzane called for people to continue looting – but carefully. In a social media video post, the younger Zuma said, “The people that are protesting and looting, please do so carefully and please do so responsibly.”
Some of the looting falls far from standard thieving, leading observers to ask whether there is indeed a “third force” at work, trying to destabilize the country by attacking infrastructure. One-hundred-thirteen mobile network towers have been vandalized, roads blocked, vital pharmaceutical companies supplying, amongst other medicines, life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs cleaned out, the country’s only oil refinery reportedly attacked and now shut down, bakeries supplying bread closed, and many COVID-19 vaccination centers forced to stop working.
And then there’s the alleged Soweto looter: police claim this young man told them he was paid to try and set fire to Soweto’s largest shopping mall.
Some analysts believe the arson accompanying many of the attacks is an indication that strange forces are at work. It’s pointed out that the opportunistic thieves pick up what they wish to steal and run off with it. But many of the large shops, malls and warehouses have then – often sometime after looting has finished – been set on fire.
Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto told reporters: “As a general pattern, it seems once a property has been looted it is then set alight. We need to be clear, however, that we understand these are different forces.”
Frustration is boiling over. The premier of KwaZulu-Natal, a province which includes Durban, Sihle Zikalala, normally a reserved senior politician, appeared to lose it live on TV when a suspected looter crossed his path, and pummelled him with his fists.
And Police Minister Cele, who always wears a fedora, leading to him being called “The Cat in the Hat,” popped up to talk to reporters for at least the second time in a day Thursday with a novel but perhaps constitutionally questionable approach to getting looted goods back, launching what he called “Operation Keep your Receipt.”
Cele explained to residents of an area adjacent to looted shops, “Prepare the receipt, because if we come there and there’s no receipt, life is going to be tough – it’s what you’ve looted and we (will) also loot yourself out of your house.”