South Africa heightened security before a series of outdoor events this weekend, as the authorities said they’ve yet to verify any threat after the US Embassy warned of a possible attack on the nation’s financial capital.
The police and army increased their visibility, and targeted operations are in place as part of a campaign that began earlier this month to improve safety before the festive season, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, or Natjoints, said in a statement Friday. Measures, including road blocks and search-and-seizure operations, are planned.
“The law-enforcement agencies have measures in place to deal with threats to national security,” it said.
The US Embassy warned two days ago that there’s a risk of a terror attack in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, without providing more information.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the alert for sowing panic and said the US authorities should have discussed the warning with their local counterparts first. Six years ago, the US government downplayed a similar alert that came to nought.
Ramaphosa’s criticism adds to the disagreement between South Africa and the US — its second-biggest trading partner — earlier this year over the two nations’ divergent stances how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While South Africa has high levels of crime, Johannesburg — the nation’s biggest city — hasn’t experienced a mass attack in decades.
Islamic State previously threatened to attack South Africa for its involvement in a counter-insurgency operation in neighboring Mozambique, where the Islamist militants have been carrying out attacks since 2017.
South Africa is part of the 16-member Southern African Development Community economic bloc that deployed forces last year to help the Mozambican government quell the violence.
Sandton serves as a base for the Johannesburg stock exchange, US lenders including Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc., along with law firms and international auditing firms such as EY. The area also has a large shopping mall that draws tourists and affluent shoppers.
LGBTQ+ activists are scheduled to hold a march in Sandton this weekend. It’s one of more than 500 events that police will monitor, Natjoints said.
Other major gatherings include the so-called Soweto Derby between two of the nation’s biggest football clubs — Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, a rugby match between South Africa and Ireland, and the coronation of Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini in the port city of Durban on Saturday.
The police are prepared to provide security at all of the events, said Police Minister Bheki Cele.
“We are satisfied that we are fine in Sandton, we are satisfied that we are fine with the derby, the rugby and here as well,” Cele told reporters in Durban. “All these events will be well looked after by the South African Police Service.”
Cele said the police have no evidence of a threat to attack Sandton, while Natjoints said it hasn’t confirmed the veracity of the US Embassy alert.
The South African intelligence community has “engaged their US counterparts with an expectation that credible information would be shared,” the agency said.
South Africa’s law-enforcement agencies are struggling to recover after being hollowed out under the nine-year rule of former President Jacob Zuma, when state corruption became endemic.
In July 2021, the nation’s intelligence structures failed to anticipate the worst civil unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid: a week of riots and looting that left more than 350 people dead and shuttered thousands of businesses.