Feeling distressed about the rioting and looting that is taking place in South Africa

By Marcus Coetzee, 14 July 2021.

Rioting and looting has engulfed parts of South Africa in July 2021. KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng provinces are currently the most affected. 

These riots appear to have morphed into a short-sighted destruction of infrastructure and thousands of businesses. The news is full of images of mass looting. People even seem to be driving to distant shopping malls and warehouses to steal without remorse.

I am very distressed by it. I am unclear about how I can influence the outcome of what is happening. It is a struggle to retain hope right now. The people that I have spoken with feel the same.

The dire situation is incredibly complex. There are several influences, including:

  • Despair given the economic situation in South Africa, and the high levels of unemployment and poverty.
  • Frustration with the Covid-19 lockdown and the loss of jobs and freedoms that accompanied this.
  • Poor performance of local government in providing services and opportunities to communities.
  • Protests linked to the imprisonment of former President Zuma due to contempt of court.
  • Covert operations from political factions seeking to destabilize South Africa.
  • Economic policies that may have stifled the economy and reduced opportunities for growth.
  • Massive loss of government resources due to ‘state capture’ – the mass looting of state assets over the past decade.

The food and energy value chains have been devastated in the affected areas. There is no food on the shelves and petrol stations have run dry. Medicines are also in short supply. Essential services are struggling to function in the midst of the third wave of the pandemic. Tens of thousands of people have most probably lost their jobs. Poverty and hunger will soon intensify in the hundreds of communities affected by rioting and looting. 

Police are overwhelmed and in danger of running out of tear gas canisters. While 2,500 members of the SANDF have been deployed, they are primarily focused on guarding strategic assets such as hospitals and airports. Furthermore, they are poorly versed in community policing.

It is unclear where hope lies. 

Some of my hope rests in the stories of communities that have created neighbourhood watches and other groups to manage checkpoints, protect shops and businesses, and conduct cleanup operations. There are also stories of taxi associations that indicated their intention to do the same in an attempt to protect their future income streams.

I would like to see the government adopt a much bolder approach to stopping the rioting and looting before things spiral out of control. This should include the declaration of a State of Emergency and possibly the increased deployment of the military to protect valuable assets and manage checkpoints.

I also believe that the Social Relief of Distress Grant of 350 Rands per month should be continued indefinitely in the form of a Basic Income Grant.

I do not think that a political solution is possible at this point, since some political parties or factions may be looking to turn this situation to their advantage.

There will shortly be a massive need for humanitarian relief and economic-reconstruction to help people to survive this winter and help people rebuild what has been destroyed.

Ultimately, communities will need to take a stand and prevent rioting and looting from occurring in the areas under their control and influence. This will be the main thing that alleviates the chaos.

It is truly a sad state of affairs that our country could get to this point. This has been a gigantic wake up call for everyone that the status quo can not continue. I pray that there is some way out of it and that some good can come from it, perhaps lessons for how we can create a more healthy South Africa going forward. For now, all I can do is support the people around me.

In pursuit of strategic clarity

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