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South Africa riots: 'Heartbroken' locals scramble to rebuild after homes 'burnt to ground'

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Throughout the last month South Africa has seen an increasing level of violent riots, with doctors comparing the injuries to that of a warzone, as communities united to fortify towns and cities against looters, criminals and the general disruption of daily life. The economic disparity between the wealthiest and poorest South Africans has been exaggerated by lockdown, as restrictions started to tighten once again, and with political unrest to pose as a motive, resulted in some of the worst riots and looting the country has seen in July.

The country has been rocked by protests and riots, burning down food distribution centres, looting entire shopping malls and even robbing SPCA’s of their animal food and blankets, the chaos is almost indescribable.

“I cried as I watched the news,” commented university student and entrepreneur Caitlin Rajah.

“I never imagined I would live through the pages of a history textbook, but in the last few weeks I definitely have.

“This broke my heart, watching our beautiful country begin to burn to the ground.

“Hearing the stories of family businesses having to close down due to the high cost of damages.

“My heart and soul completely shattered. Eventually I couldn’t just sit back and watch this continue and watch the victims of this civil unrest suffer.”

At only 20 years old, Ms Rajah didn’t hesitate to take on responsibility and use all the resources and opportunities she had to help her fellow South Africans.

She said: “I have my own small business, Caity’s Confectioneries, and along with the assistance of my cousin, Deshree Govender, our family and friends we started an Essentials Drive.

“We collected non-perishable foods with other essentials and shipped them down to small towns in KZN who have not been receiving as much help as bigger towns.

“We will continue this drive as we believe in rebuilding South Africa and helping better the lives of our fellow South Africans.”

This ideal of trying to help as many people within your community as possible is commonly known as Ubuntu in South Africa, it is a descriptive quality encompassing the ideal values of humanity and connection to one’s community.

These riots have been the most violent in recent memory for South Africans which is why the spirit of Ubuntu has been so vital in the survival of many businesses and communities.

Claiming more than 300 lives, detaining more than 2,000 people, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and looting from an estimated 40,000 businesses, whether it was international franchises to family-run stores and even charities like the SPCA.

It was initially said that the reason for the riots was the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma as he was charged with contempt of court and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

This was due to his consistent failure to appear before the Zondo Commission: a public inquiry investigating allegations of fraud, corruption, money laundering and countless other affairs that occurred during Mr Zuma’s presidency.

While this has been a bone of contention for many of his loyal supporters, there are far more motivations behind these riots than one man alone could incite.

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Simplified: there are the protesters who are legitimately protesting the former president’s incarceration, then there are the opportunistic criminals that South Africa’s 77 percent crime index knows all too well.

However, a large majority of the rioters are those trying to rise against the systemic wealth and equity inequality in the country, along with those that took this as an opportunity to push back against the ever-stringent lockdown and the politicians that enacted it.

Motshabi Shuping, Intermediate software developer at Allan Gray, also weighed in on the subject: “How is it that we can live in a society where people’s primary avenue of gaining some kind of social mobility and wealth redistribution is through looting?’ How can we then abide by living in such a society?

“The fact that the grant for Covid relief was also ended prior to this time as well as the fact that covid has immensely impacted these communities and somehow South Africa just stayed silent. However, when those same people now rise up and say: ‘I’m trying to change my lived experience, I’m trying to find some way to rectify what is going on in my life.’ We then say, ‘Okay that’s illegal.

“The way that we have weaponised legality and law against poor people is so telling of such a bigger issue of how we devalue the lives of people we don’t deem are necessary to society.”

On August 5 Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa, made a statement announcing a cabinet reshuffle.

President Ramaphosa has seen, in the last month, a flurry of detrimental blows to the power of his cabinet, not only has the recent unrest swivelled public values, but three of his most vital Ministers are being replaced.

In addition to this, President Ramphosa appointed 10 Ministers, 10 Deputy Ministers and, in a riskier move, dissolved the Ministry of State Security in his most recent announcement in the hopes of finding a balance between satisfying the public and protecting it from itself.

The president spoke about the riots for one of the first times during this announcement, saying: “Our law enforcement agencies are working hard to bring those responsible to justice, we have acknowledged that our security services were found wanting in several aspects.”

He went on to say that an expert panel will be formed to examine and analyse the shortcomings of law enforcement in these circumstances and how to be better prepared going forward.

This has not been received with overwhelming support, as law enforcement has never been a trusted source of security for South Africans and their recently expanded powers due to the riots and Covid-19 has left many feeling uneasy.

As Mr Shuping explained: “It’s weird that the police have now been able to go into communities, predominantly poor black communities, and then reseize things they assume to be stolen. That is a very severe infringement of people’s rights and it’s weird that we are allowing that to happen solely because these people are poor and black.”

Ms Rajah also weighed in on the fact that police numbers were incredibly underwhelming during the unrest: “Residents (were) having to protect themselves and their families due to the limited number of police officers available.”

Some have seen these riots as fully calculated attacks and not as spontaneous as they seem to be.

A former minister of home affairs has noted that the faction fights within the ANC dates back to 2017, when President Ramaphosa narrowly won his presidency from the hands of Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma – the ex-wife of former president Zuma.

For this exact reason, many believe there is a coup about to begin, and whilst there isn’t much evidence to back these claims at the moment, some fear that by the time there is it will be too late to save what little democracy remains.

Mr Shuping concluded: “If we aren’t careful, we will reach a point where poor people are no longer going to subject themselves to suffering in silence whilst their neighbours and counterparts are thriving in a society that has such abject poverty.

“If people who are more privileged do not grow aware of that idea, aware of that unrest because of how deep the wealth divide and racial divide is, we are headed for serious problems.”



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