Was it really a coup?

Douglas Gibson asks what has happened to the "dirty dozen" supposedly behind the insurrection

South Africans have been tantalised by the question: Was the unrest really a coup or an insurrection? Or was it an unimaginably damaging looting spree by the poor and many in the middle class using the fig-leaf of the jailing of Jacob Zuma as an excuse?

Clearly, there are thousands of our citizens, mostly poor and unemployed, who are dishonest criminals who think looting, theft, arson, murder and the damaging and destruction of other people’s property is acceptable conduct. The example set for the children of our nation is a chilling reality that seems not to have occurred to them; indeed, many of them took their children along on the looting spree.

Was this economic, political and social disaster planned by a mysterious group of twelve masterminds? Were they planning a coup? A change of government by violent and undemocratic means? It depends on who one listens to.

One version is that of Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. She is a nice, kind, motherly woman whom I know quite well from my days in Parliament. Trained as a primary school teacher, she underwent military training in Angola and Russia and headed an ANC commission investigating why MK soldiers deserted to the UN Commission for Human Rights. She was the secretary-general of the ANC Women’s League before going to Parliament and becoming a deputy minister, minister of Home Affairs and then minister of Defence, where she has served for many years.

A few hours after President Ramaphosa told the nation the unrest was a well-planned insurrection – a coup – she contradicted him. She said there was no evidence of a coup; no attempted coup had taken place.

This repudiation of the president by his minister of Defence (who should surely know) was remarkable. The DA said this was evidence of a chaotic situation in government, asking whether anyone was in control. Mapisa-Nqakula, a very senior minister, was in turn repudiated by one of the most junior people in the cabinet, the acting minister in the Presidency, who said the Defence Minister’s view was not the view of the government.

This all came on top of Minister of State Security Dlodlo saying she had passed information about the imminent unrest to the Police and the minister of Police, Bheki Cele, who promptly denied this. An editorial in The Star later commented, “Government clueless again.”

Poor Minister Mapisa-Nqakula had to go on television and deny that she had repudiated the president when clearly, she had. She said that she was loyal and disciplined and was not an undisciplined “girl.” Certainly, no one in the mainstream media had called her that or would dream of doing so but she nevertheless went on and more or less blamed the media for reporting the whole situation.

The public was fed a line by the government that it knew a dozen people who had been part of the plot. No stone would be left unturned in bringing the guilty to book. What has happened since? A clown of a former DJ was arrested and we were told that three or four others had been arrested. But where are the high-profile figures?

Where are the arrests of major figures capable of leading an insurrection? Or was this all a tale calculated to keep South Africans quiet in the face of the utter incompetence of the SAPS, the Security Service, and ministers Mapisa-Nqakula, Cele, Dlodlo and the president himself?

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com

This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.