(Bloomberg) --

The spectacle of two South African cabinet ministers being held hostage by military veterans demanding an audience with the president has embarrassed the government and highlighted security concerns ahead of next month’s municipal elections.

Defense Minister Thandi Modise, herself a former combatant in the fight against White-minority rule, her deputy Thabang Makwetla and Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele were prevented from leaving a hotel near the capital, Pretoria, on Thursday after talks with the veterans collapsed. The stand-off lasted less than an hour before special forces stormed the venue, firing teargas and arresting 56 people who now face kidnapping charges. No one was hurt. 

“We were there against our will, but it was not a violent situation,” Gungubele later told reporters.

The drama coincided with a visit to the country by France’s environment minister, and came just three months after the country was gripped by civil unrest that left 354 people dead. Earlier this week, the ruling party’s headquarters was evacuated following a security breach by military veterans seeking an audience with its officials who weren’t available to meet them.

Read more: Security Forces Free Ministers Held Hostage in South Africa

The ex-fighters want the government to give them a one-off 4.2 million rand ($284,000) payment, medical insurance for their families and assistance from banks to start businesses, Lwazi Mzobe, their spokesman, told Johannesburg-based broadcaster Newzroom Afrika.

“South Africa is not a security heavy state,” Modise told reporters. “We will go to any extent to hear concerns about any citizen, whether they are liberation veterans or ordinary citizens.” 

The fragile state of security in parts of the country was exposed during a week of rioting in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces in July, with President Cyril Ramaphosa conceding that the police and army had responded inadequately and failed to prevent looting and loss of life. He then fired Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula as defense minister, replacing her with Modise, and brought the intelligence services under the direct control of his office, with State Security Minister Ayanda Dloldo assigned the public service portfolio. 

Political tensions have meanwhile ratcheted up as campaigning intensifies in the run-up to the Nov. 1 municipal vote. 

The security forces are on high alert after a spate of political killings, particularly in the Tshwane municipality, which includes the capital, Pretoria, Fikile Mbalula, the ruling party’s head of elections told journalists this week. The town was gripped by violent protest and looting in 2016 after the ANC sidelined its then-Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, and nominated Thoko Didiza, now the agriculture minister, to take his place.

 

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