KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is arguably enduring the worst looting in the province’s history, with key port and trucking operations coming to an almost complete standstill.
Protests were initially ignited by former president Jacob Zuma being sentenced to jail. Trucks were set alight on a Durban highway on Friday (9 July) and since then warehouses, Makro shopping centres, a chemical production facility and other buildings, cars, more trucks and tyres in roads have been set alight. Under the guise of political unrest, many South Africans in Gauteng and KZN have looted shopping centres and various businesses, effectively shutting down much of the economy in some parts Gauteng and the majority of KZN.
At the time of publishing (15 July), 72 people have died (according to SANews) and 1 700 arrested due to the “shutdown protests” and looting. 159 have already appeared in court. Deaths and arrests cannot be accurately estimated until the protests are concluded but the numbers are very likely to increase in coming days.
The overwhelming narrative on social media and suburbs in KZN is that police have not done enough, played too little a role and ultimately failed to protect peoples’ livelihoods. About 24 hours into the looting, President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed 2 500 soldiers to assist South African law enforcement agencies in quelling the civil unrest. However, when scrolling through social media and hearing from communities, the overwhelming feeling is that South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) members are not being seen and subsequently people do not feel any safer.
Police Minister Bheki Cele says 12 ‘ringleaders’ of the shutdown protest have been identified and as looting begins to die down, communities can take comfort in knowing those responsible for the civil unrest may be brought to justice.
False reports, wild rumours, assumptions and ‘broken telephone’ like messages by word of mouth, on WhatsApp and social media, along with the civil unrest not being dealt with adequately by general and anti-riot SAPS members (very likely due to a lack of human resources), has sent communities into deep fear and concern for their safety.
This journalists’ community, Manor Gardens/Westridge, KZN, along with most in the province, has taken matters of security into its own hands. Entrances into suburbs and certain roads are being either barricaded (using large rubble, trees, razor wire, etc.), guarded by civilians or both. Civilian patrols are monitoring community infrastructure (water pipes, substations, shops, etc.). Aid to those in need (nappies, baby formula, lists of the available shops and petrol stations that all have extremely limited stock) is being provided by communities.
Manor Gardens/Cato Manor/Westridge/Mayville share the area with the large Cato Manor informal settlement and in the past 72 hours, the community has seen hundreds of people walk from the informal settlement, into surround shopping centres and Durban central business district (CBD) and return with every kind of stolen good, from TVs to bass guitars. Not to say those looting are only from poverty stricken backgrounds, as one video doing the rounds on social media depicts a young man looting a Woolworths in the Glenwood, KZN area, getting into his relatively new Mercedes and driving away.
Civil security matters aside, what communities such as mine and many others are worried about is human security. A main exit and entrance road for the Cato Manor informal settlement has been the site of major violent protest action, tyres burnt, police fired upon and intimidation tactics (firing shots into the air, shooting streetlights, stoning police vehicles and stoning and attempting to break into a guest house in the same road) have been used by a small armed group with multiple firearms hiding amongst the chaos of a protest. This has been a similar experience for many residents in Gauteng and KZN, with CBDs being even more chaotic.
As day four of the Zuma-induced shutdown protests continues, the streets are calmer, the police are regaining control and communities continue to patrol and barricade. The SANDF is apprehending looters and moving into communities. 25 000 soldiers are to be deployed by the weekend and it feels necessary.
It is unconfirmed whether defence intelligence is involved but Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula did say that they (SANDF and SAPS) were ‘caught with their pants down’ when it came to the mass looting, but they did know protests would take place and that there was a plan to protect national key points and infrastructure. Those responsible for orchestrating these protests and the small armed groups that have been terrorising neighbourhoods need to be brought to justice, and time will tell if they are.
South Africa is a nation with a terrible history and predisposition to violence. In security studies, poverty and unemployment is a well-documented driver of civil unrest. The unemployment rate will in all likely hood increase after the unrest, exacerbating the situation.
Driving on the N2 highway, from Durban going towards Ballito, was an incredible sight. In the foreground, black clouds of smoke billowed from a chemical factory near the highway. The turn off lanes were often crowded with boxes and pulled off cars.
Standing by your window, clutching a pellet gun as hundreds of people run past your gate to a Ultra Liquors around the corner and then back down again with what they have looted, while screaming and firing occasional shots into the air, is not pleasant. It is a reminder that civil unrest in this country is a symptom of a macroeconomic problem that needs urgent solving.