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[LISTEN] The Fire in Parliament and Attack on the Constitutional Court Represent a Failure of Security and Institutional Decay

Jan 13, 2022

Staff Writer

Zandile Mafe was on Tuesday charged with terrorism, house breaking, and theft, amongst others, for allegedly starting a fire on South Africa’s legislative seat, which took 3 days to extinguish, and caused much damage to the historic legislature amongst other structures. Further, 4 days later, an attack on the constitutional court offices in Johannesburg was thwarted, with much less damage. Taken together with the widespread looting in July 2021, questions around South Africa’s institutional capacity have been raised, especially in the context of so called ‘state capture’ and the seeming factional battles within the ruling African National Congress. This is especially since these actions continue without seeming consequence.

Speaking to Radio Islam International, Dr Jakkie Cilliers (Institute for Security Studies), and Dr Dale McKinley (independent political analyst) both argued that the attacks on parliament and the constitutional court buildings were more likely carried out by individuals alone, with the parliamentary arsonist likely possibly suffering mental illness. Further, they argued that this was qualitatively different to the looting in 2021, however, and that all of these breaches indicate institutional weakness and decay. Referring to the parliament fire, Dr McKinley rhetorically asserted that, “one gets the sense that [the building] even ordinarily ought to be fairly well protected, even if this was the act of a mentally challenged individual, a homeless man looking for some comfort against the weather.” Dr Cilliers pointed out that the conflict between the police minister and national commissioner of police has amplified this institutional weakness, especially in a contest wherein corruption and maladministration has hollowed out institutions; parliament’s sprinkler system for example was supposedly not working since 2017.

In relation to remedies, Dr Cilliers argued that a first step needed to be insulating the security apparatus from politics, followed by real consequences for violators. He used the case of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), arguing that evidence-based solutions were used, successfully, overall, at the institution following  the evidence that it had been previously captured.





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