In light of recent warnings by US and British sources that South Africa may be open to terror attacks, the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has published a press release explaining that we may not be so secluded from world affairs as we previously thought.
A relative complacency and even a bit of humour has followed the warnings and media releases, showing that many South Africans are not taking the threats seriously. This is inappropriate regardless of the circumstances, as South Africans should be used to staying alert for violent crime.
The IRR has stated a number of factors which contribute to our vulnerability to terror attacks:
Its (South Africa’s) position at the tail of the African terror belt which ran from Middle-East/North Africa down the African east coast and into South Africa.
Its relatively porous borders which made it easy for people to enter and leave the country illegally.
Weak control over official documents which made it easier for people to corruptly obtain identification and other documents.
Ease of access to illegal weaponry.
Its sophisticated banking and financial services institutions which aided in the laundering of terror money.
The very public presence of a large number of Western companies which made enticing targets for terror attacks.
IRR CEO, Dr Frans Cronje said:
“For a number of years the IRR has been warning that South Africa should not see itself as immune from terror attacks. The type of attacks that played themselves out most recently in France and Belgium are very difficult to prevent and it is that type of attack – a relatively isolated incident carried out by a small group of extremists with simple weaponry against a prominent target – which South Africa is also vulnerable to.”
“It is misleading for South Africa’s security agencies to say there is no terror link or threat to South Africa. There are, for example, numerous examples over an extended period of time of terror suspects being found in possession of South African passports. There is also no security agency anywhere in the world that could provide an assurance that a specific country faces no terror threat. Terror is a global threat and as security measures in Western democracies are strengthened, scenarios that see Western-aligned targets being attacked in third party countries become more likely.”
South Africa faces severe post-Cold War small arms proliferation, which has already been seen as the source of aiding armed criminals throughout the country. In addition, our gang-related crime has been likened to terrorism. Our law enforcement is sub-par at best, failing to address petty crime, much less anything as severe as a terrorist attack. If we do face an act of terror, there is very little our law enforcement and drastically under-resourced armed forces could do.
For the probability of a terror attack – if it is not enough to want to address the violence we already face day to day as South Africans, there is plenty of factors contributing to Islamic militants targeting South Africa.
To add to the IRR’s list, Denel (South Africa’s state arms company) has made deals with Saudi interests, an enemy of Daesh (Islamic State). This is no doubt a good reason for militants, many of which have relations to South Africa already, to target South Africa for acts of terror.
Citizens and government need to be vigilant but more importantly, the state must cease its petty politicking and “transformation” agenda, and build up a secure foundation for a stable state. That means actually fulfilling the legitimate function of the state – security, not social engineering.