Overview: There were no suspected terrorism-related incidents in South Africa during 2020, possibly owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. This continued a downward trend from 2019, following an unusually high number of incidents in 2018. ISIS facilitation networks and cells remained a threat, after the South African government first publicly acknowledged them in 2016. Regional dynamics remained an increasing concern as terrorist groups made gains in the South African Development Community region, including Mozambique. The South African government engaged in discussions with Mozambique on how to counter threats from ISIS and other terror groups. In July, ISIS threatened to expand its “fighting front” into South Africa if South Africa entered the ISIS conflict in Mozambique. The government continued to prosecute alleged terrorists charged in previous years and arrested members of an alleged white supremacist terrorist group.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: South African officials expressed interest in expanding CT information sharing with the United States to bolster border security. The Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act criminalizes acts of terrorism and terrorism financing, and it specifies international cooperation obligations. The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1998 applies to nationals who attempt to or who join terrorist organizations like ISIS. The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation’s “Crimes Against the State” Unit and South Africa’s State Security Agency are tasked with detecting, deterring, and preventing acts of terrorism within South Africa. The South African Police Service (SAPS) Special Task Force is specifically trained and proficient in CT, counterinsurgency, and hostage rescue. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) prosecutes terrorism and international crime cases. Parliament passed a cybercrimes bill in July, establishing more than 40 new criminal violations.
In July, South African police arrested individuals in South Africa with ISIS propaganda, weapons, and flags. Also in July, a South African magistrate dismissed prosecution of Farhad Hoomer, a suspected ringleader in several deadly terrorist attacks in 2018, after investigators failed to complete analysis of computer and phone evidence after more than 20 months. The magistrate left open the possibility of reinstating the case.
South African border security is challenging because of its numerous land, sea, and air ports of entry for international travelers. Multiple South African law enforcement agencies police its borders, but they are often stovepiped. Inadequate communication and equipment limit their border control ability. The Department of Home Affairs in 2016 submitted to Parliament the Border Management Authority Bill to create an integrated and coordinated agency to ensure effective control of the border. President Ramaphosa signed the Border Management Authority Bill into law on July 22. CT measures at the international airports include screening with advanced technology X-ray machines, but land borders do not have advanced technology or infrastructure. Trafficking networks used these land borders for illicit smuggling, and South Africa does not require neighboring countries’ citizens to obtain visas for brief visits. SAPS internal affairs office investigated corruption allegations related to illicit sale of passport and other identity documents in the Department of Home Affairs, but illegitimately obtained identity documents continued to be used.
In 2020, South Africa’s NPA continued to prosecute terrorism crimes. To decentralize terrorism case prosecution and provide provincially based prosecutors with relevant experience, the NPA’s Gauteng-based Priority Crimes Litigation Unit (PCLU) returned prosecutors who had been seconded to the central unit to their previous provincial assignments and reassigned terrorism cases to attorneys in judicial districts where the crimes occurred. While the PCLU retained an oversight role, it gave provincial prosecutors substantial autonomy to direct terrorism cases. Progress in several high-profile cases slowed as newly assigned NPA provincial prosecutors familiarized themselves with the cases and developed prosecution strategies. Affected cases included the previously reported prosecutions of the terrorist group allegedly responsible for the 2018 deadly attacks on a Shia mosque and firebomb attacks against commercial Durban interests, and the prosecutions of Sayfudeen Del Vecchio and Fatima Patel, charged in 2018 with murdering British-South African dual nationals Rodney and Rachel Saunders. In August a magistrate set a trial date for early 2021 for the Saunders’ case, but the case was subsequently postponed pending police and prosecutors’ evidence processing.
In 2019, South African Police arrested four members of the National Christian Resistance Movement, a white supremacist group that allegedly planned attacks on shopping malls, informal settlements, and government installations. In 2019, the four suspects were charged under the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorism and Related Activities Act. Two members were found guilty and sentenced in December for an effective eight years’ imprisonment for preparing and planning to carry out acts of terrorism. Charges against another individual were dropped. Harry Knoesen, the alleged leader of the group, is expected to face trial in 2021. Prosecutors charged a South African farmer with a terrorism-related offense after he allegedly led other rioters in storming and damaging courthouse property during an October 10 protest related to a hearing for suspects charged with murdering another farmer.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: South Africa is a member of FATF and of ESAAMLG. South Africa’s FIU, the Financial Intelligence Centre, is a member of the Egmont Group. SAPS’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation has struggled with a recent inspection related to terrorism financing cases, including South African officials’ reluctance to label cases as terrorism financing.
Countering Violent Extremism: There are no updates in 2020.
International and Regional Cooperation: South Africa is a member of the AU, the GCTF, and Southern African Development Corporation.