It is so much easier to destroy than to build

By Marcus Coetzee, 23 July 2021.

I remain distraught and saddened by the recent events in South Africa – the mass rioting and looting that afflicted KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. 

It has been a traumatic series of weeks for millions of South Africans and I recently mentioned how distressed I was by these events.

The situation has somewhat stabilized thanks to the good work of communities, police and 25,000 SANDF troops. However, the news is fraught with stories of the consequences of this attempted insurrection that occurred over the course of these past weeks. Humanitarian work has begun to alleviate the present suffering and help rebuild.

On the 16th July 2021, President Ramaphosa described the destruction as a result of a “deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on our democratic order”.

This cataclysmic event led me to one conclusion – it is hundreds of times easier and quicker to destroy than it takes to create! It has also challenged my hope in South Africa.

Building is difficult and takes time

I have spent my career working with non-profit organizations and other agencies to reduce poverty in South Africa. 

I have learned that it takes 5 years of hard work to establish an organization and make sure it is on a stable track.

I know how incredibly difficult it is to improve a single value chain – a synchronized arrangement of organizations that are required to provide a good or service.

I am aware of how much delicate effort, time and collaboration it takes to reduce some measure of poverty in a community, and how things never go according to plan.

Socio-economic development is difficult since there are so many variables at play, yet in a single week, decades of progress have been undermined in hundreds of communities throughout South Africa! Tens of thousands of businesses have been destroyed, and many will not return.

Those responsible for this attempted insurrection were prepared to take South Africa back into the dark ages in order to gain power and rule over the rubble, or perhaps it was a bargaining tactic that got out of control. Either way, it was an immoral undertaking. The affected communities might take a decade to recover, assuming that they do.

The change I hope for

I hope that some good can come out of this traumatic event.

I have been thinking long and hard about the types of changes that I hope would emerge from these events, and here is what is on my mind:

  • Politics – Some ‘house cleaning’ to suspend politicians who advocate violence, racism, tribalism and xenophobia. These behaviours should be absolutely unacceptable in our democracy.
  • Economics – The existence of a coherent and unifying economic-development strategy that balances the role of the market versus the state. This will require collaboration between multiple organizations and factions. The South African government is short-sighted if it thinks that it can lead and micro-manage every aspect of this strategy.
  • Basic services – Improved accountability for local government to deliver services to communities. Too many local municipalities have grossly failed to do their duties and they are partially to blame for this insurrection. I would like to see a strategy for short-circuiting those incompetent muncipalities – either having them administred by an effective non-profit organization or absorbed into the better performing municipalities. 
  • Social security – A Basic Income Grant is required to strengthen the safety net for millions of South Africans who have no hope of finding employment and who do not qualify for other social grants. This will need to be funded by reducing the cost of the public sector, which in many instances, has demonstrated its inability to convert and multiply tax revenue into social impact. 
  • Businesses – Increased awareness of businesses of their social context and responsibilities to the communities in which they operate. There should also be more recognition for the value of informal and small businesses, regardless of the race or nationality of their owners.
  • Community cooperation – There have been countless accounts of formal, informal and impromptu organizations that helped to defend communities, and which are now helping to rebuild them. I would love to see some of this cooperation remain since rebuilding is complex and will take several years. 


I am both angry and sad about what happened to South Africa, and hope those that atttempted this insurrection are brought to justice.

But I acknowledge that while this failed insurrection was designed and implemented, it ignited the frustrations that millions of South Africans experience with poverty in their everyday lives. Unless this is urgently addressed, and we are able to make some decent headway against it, we are likely to see similar events in the future.

In pursuit of strategic clarity

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