Possibility of another spate of looting, violence all too real

People looting a shop at Springfield Value Centre in Durban flee from a police officer. File photo.
People looting a shop at Springfield Value Centre in Durban flee from a police officer. File photo.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Over the past few weeks there have been indications that those who instigated the deaths, looting and mayhem in July were working at their nefarious plans again. If you keep your ears and eyes open you can see it in a word that slips out here; a whisper there; or a threat, coated in fake revolutionary language, on social media.

In the past few days the signs that the instigators were “winking” at their supporters have been more pronounced. Sometimes it is not subtle — groups using the ANC logo have been calling for a “shutdown” of KwaZulu-Natal on Monday to press home their demand that former president Jacob Zuma, who is in jail for contempt of court and is also accused of corruption related to receiving bribes, be released.

Last week the ANC in KZN, after various messages on social media, called on Zuma supporters to desist from abusing its name and logo.

“People should refrain from using the former president Jacob Zuma as a scapegoat for violence, and we urge law enforcement agencies to act firmly and expeditiously, within the law, against any form of lawlessness, public violence, damage to property and disruption of economic activity,” said ANC provincial spokesperson Nhlakanipho Ntombela.

The real question, however, is this: what has happened since July to make any of us believe that the loss of life, the destruction of property and the fanning of hate will not happen again or can be stopped — today or next week?

We seem to have moved on. Our many other everyday concerns — corruption, incompetence, poverty, a devastated economy — have roared back onto centre stage. Sure, at least 3,407 people have been arrested, but these are mainly looters and not masterminds. Unless we see a clear explanation of what happened and concrete action against the masterminds of these treasonous actions, then we will live like this: fearful that it will happen again, afraid of the fire next time.

A big block of uncertainty about the stability of the state and the permanence of democracy sits at the heart of SA today. If you live in KZN, the ANC’s call for people to desist, issued on Friday, merely pours petrol on the real fear and uncertainty of this time.

Nothing much has been done to fix the police services or its crime intelligence wing. Minister of police Bheki Cele and his national commissioner, Khehla Sitole, are still at loggerheads. Reports of police in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere being involved in political assassinations paint an even darker picture. Essentially, there is incompetence and infighting at the top and sheer criminality in the lower ranks.

Information from the Ramaphosa administration at any level about what is being done to prevent another outbreak of violence has been nonexistent. Ramaphosa announced a cabinet reshuffle that merely brought the intelligence services under his direct control, but he has been negligent about briefing the nation on what exactly is being done to prevent another outbreak. Indeed, authorities have been totally silent about talk of violent outbreaks today.

Ramaphosa is in essence a man of principle. Unlike Zuma, he has subjected himself to the Zondo Commission several times in the past two years. Zuma refused to appear. After the Marikana Massacre, Ramaphosa appeared before the commission established to probe the horrific killings. Zuma, president of the country at the time, did not and failed to do anything meaningful to bring the culprits to book.

What Ramaphosa fails to realise or act on is that the people who instigated the July riots, just like the man in whose name they act, have no principles. They will not hesitate to destroy what this nation has built over decades. They will do everything in their power to ensure that the corrupt state that enriched them between 2009 and 2018 continues to exist so that they can keep their snouts in the trough. These are not nice people.

South Africans should be under no illusion about this. Those who instigated the July riots are ruthless. For them, there is no losing. If they lose, they are most likely to go to prison. They must stop SA becoming a country of laws. It must become a craven, corrupt entity where the rich and connected can do as they please.

If one understands this, then one must accept that there will be another outbreak of violence and it will either be today or next week or the week after that, unless the authorities do something to stop it. Is Ramaphosa and his incapable, broken, state able to prevent such a thing? Are the police, divided and clueless, ready for such an eventuality? Are the intelligence agencies, if such exist, ready?

Sadly, there is no sign that they are. I pray that I am wrong.

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