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Hawks nab suspected social media instigators of unrest

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Hawks members from the Crime Against the State unit, working together with Crime Intelligence, arrested two suspects on Saturday – a 35-year-old man and a 36-year-old woman, for incitement to commit public violence on social media platforms.

The arrests come more than a month after unrest and destruction descended on KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng, which resulted in violent looting of over 40 000 businesses in the provinces, costing the economy an estimated R20 billion.

The wave of violence, initially sparked by the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, descended into days of chaos.

In a media statement, the South African Police Service (SAPS) alleges the 35-year-old KZN-based man was involved in the incitement of public violence through social media and other platforms during the period of unrest in KZN.

“As a result of his actions, Brookside Mall in Pietermaritzburg was broken into and criminal activities such as theft of goods occurred. During the incident, the mall was set alight by the suspect and his entourage. The search and arrest warrants were authorised and executed on Saturday. He is expected to appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court today, 30 August 2021,” notes the statement.

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Gauteng-based woman, with 59 900 followers on Twitter, was arrested on Saturday, during a search and seizure operation in Leondale, which resulted in the confiscation of evidence for further investigation.

“The suspect is expected to appear in the Palm Ridge Magistrates court today, 30 August 2021, on charges of incitement to commit public violence. Investigations against those who incite, instigate or conspire with others to commit crime, including public violence, are continuing,” says the SAPS.

Last week, Fees Must Fall activist Bonginkosi Khanyile appeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court for his alleged involvement in the looting spree.He also faces charges of incitement to commit violence.

The weekend’s arrests come one week after the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJOINTS) − which co-ordinates all security and law enforcement operations in SA − announced it was monitoring social media posts and tracking those who were inciting violence and advocating for a national shutdown.

The security agency had issued a stern warning tothose responsible for calling for civil disobedience online, noting it has put measures in place to ensure the safety and security of all South Africans.

“NatJOINTS is aware of inflammatory messages on various social media platforms advocating for violence. Those behind these messages are warned that inciting violence is a criminal offence. Members of the public are cautioned against spreading such divisive messages,” said NatJOINTS spokesperson lieutenant-colonel Robert Netshiunda at the time.

According to the Cyber Crimes Act, those who engage in such acts on social media will be liable for criminal charges, and can receive a fine or be sentenced to imprisonment for a period up to three years.

The law stipulates that: “Any person who unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes, by means of a computer system, a data message to a specific person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite violence, or call people to be involved in the destruction of any property belonging to people, is guilty of an offence.”

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