No Political Chanting, No Signboards, Just Looting
South Africa is a country that has seen its fair share of injustice and inequality in the past. The nation has been known for its constant efforts toward peace and tranquility for decades after the unfortunate events of apartheid. The people usually manage to smile through unsettling times while hoping for better days ahead, and this just makes the recent news of riots and looting throughout the African country just that much more exhausting. On July 8th, following the sentencing of former president Jacob Zuma for failing to attend a court summon addressing his corrupt practices during his nine-year tenure, protests erupted in multiple provinces demanding his release.
However, unlike the injustices that invoked the #ENDSARS or #BlackLivesMatter protests, little to no coordination or direct call to action was issued by the instigators. Undoubtedly, there were groups of people who felt strongly about the incarceration of a past national hero yet the behaviour exhibited was far from patriotic. Innocent entrepreneurs’ businesses have been robbed and destroyed. Shopping malls and grocery stores were hollowed out. Local shops were set on fire, while petrol bombs and gunshots rattled the streets. Hidden behind this political guise, the true nature of social unrest protruded into international view.
Currently, at the time of writing, there are 212 deaths and hundreds arrested from the events of what is now the worst run of violence South Africa has experienced since Apartheid. Although current president Cyril Ramaphosa has deployed military officers in hotspots where police had long been overwhelmed, slighted business owners and civilians are irate at the lack of urgency from the government. Many have stated that there were warnings of potential discourse from his devote followers before the imprisonment of Zuma, but no precautions were implemented.
Now, countless businesses (many without insurance) have been devastated by the outcome, the public is eager for the country’s leaders to amend the damage done. In KwaZulu-Natal (Zuma’s hometown), an estimated $1bn (£720m) worth of stock was stolen from at least 800 retail shops. Residents can be seen queuing up at local community halls for essential food items i.e. two loaves of bread and one liter of milk.
Ramaphosa can be quoted describing the reality of the current situation as “opportunistic acts of looting driven by hardship and poverty.”
The business owners that financially supported others within their communities can no longer afford to keep them as they struggle to salvage what is left of their establishments. A long-time business owner in Soweto Township provided her perspective on recent issues stating:
“As a black-owned business, I employed four people, now what is going to happen to them? It’s not fair, in South Africa, we know the unemployment rate is already very high. Now that people have done this, it is going to be even worse”Source: aljazeera.com
Civilians from Johannesburg and Soweto are clearly overcome with distress from the events that occurred but do not appear surprised. The compound effect from the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns has seen an astonishing rise in the already steep percentage of unemployment in South Africa. Families have been left unemployed with zero income and are growing desperate from being unable to afford the bare necessities.
The plight of socio-economic inequality among South Africans has been an obstacle since the horrifying days of Apartheid. Unfortunately, with unemployment at 32.6 percent (46% for the younger population) compared to the UK (4.8%) and US (2.9%), the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better for South Africans hoping to feed their families.
In the wake of recent events, a resident of Johannesburg painted his perspective of the riots, “We knew when we locked down again [that] this was bound to happen. The longer you leave people hungry, these events would take place. It is not just about politics and the economy, people are genuinely hungry.”
The growing lack of trust in the government and the uproar caused by Zuma’s incarceration provided the perfect storm for country-wide mayhem, revealing the desperation of a fed-up nation. With the turmoil mostly subsided, entrepreneurs and residents are still doing their best to prevent future looters from invading their homes. And businesses have begun to display “No Looting, No Shooting” signs in their neighborhoods and places of business.
Without reliable intervention from the police and military, communities are being forced to safeguard what they have left with their own hands. Local leaders are doing their part in organising community patrols and clean-up operations, attempting to restore order in their neighbourhoods. Communities in other parts of South Africa have also come forward with initiatives to help raise money for people in the affected areas.
Just south of KwaZulu-Natal in Chatsworth, locals at the Nelson Mandela Youth Centre have been making roti after a food appeal from the state government hospital and the Aryan Benevolent Home. Cooking and delivering over 500 roti to those who need it the most, the organization’s director Clive Pillay says, “We hope to do this daily with the guarantee of more roti until the bread delivery situation stabilizes.”
Following the nightmarish events, former president Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial regarding a questionable 1990’s arms deal has now been postponed for a month, expected to resume on August 10th. He pleads not guilty, facing 15 counts of racketeering, corruption, fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering while currently serving 15 months in jail for failing to attend his initial corruption inquiry.
The clean-up work for Ramaphosa goes beyond the litter on the streets, and he will indeed be answering for this catastrophe well after his tenure is complete. His nationwide “call for unity” may be all he can do to nurse this unfortunate situation as South Africa is forced to deal with the aftermath.
If you sympathize with the troubling situation in South Africa, please use any of the links below to donate to those struggling to feed their families during this crisis. Any amount will surely be appreciated.
- Food Forward SA – https://foodforwardsat.org/donate/
- The Lunchbox Fund – https://www.thelunchboxfund.org/donate
- The Penny Appeal – https://pennyappeal.org/appeal/feed-our-world/donate-food-south-africa