South Africa in Crisis: Riots, Looting, Killings. What Can Citizens Do?

We are in a national crisis. It is time that it is fully acknowledged. Acknowledgement does not have to mean an embrace of our fears nor does it mean we are giving in to ‘being negative’. On the contrary, acknowledgement is needed for anything to change.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have seen some horrific rapes and murders of women, a kidnapping of a little girl (who thankfully made it safely home to her terrified parents) and violent riots and mayhem resulting in people being killed, severe property damage and long-term social unrest.

The riots in Johannesburg over the last few days are being explained away with the story that people are attacking foreign nationals. People state this is all about xenophobia, giving themselves the opportunity to virtue signal that they are not against foreign nationals, not racist, and happy to “coexist”, and giving the impression that there is nothing else to fix.

Let us be clear here that this anarchy, this violence, looting, destruction of property, theft and killing, is not about “we don’t like having foreigners here”. Xenophobia is indeed a problem, but these riots are about service-delivery, anger, resentment, victimhood and rage, as we have seen in the riots of the recent past all over the country.

If what Lirandzu Themba, spokesperson for the Ministry of Police, says is correct, that the Johannesburg riots were sparked by an apartment on fire, then this illustrates that our society has been in a dormant yet volatile state of possible collapse for a long time. The riots throughout the rest of the country and destruction in Tshwane (Pretoria) were sparked by other incidences. If all it takes to awaken this sleeping dragon, is a building on fire then yes, we are in a crisis. A crisis with nothing and no one to contain it. No useful police force, no effective leadership holding this. No leadership means no hope for the people, and no hope mixed with desperation and anger means carnage.

South Africans are reading understandably emotive posts on social media, that send out messages that they are “part of the problem” for “pretending nothing is happening”. This is not entirely true, as getting on with our lives is a normal survival tool and a necessity sometimes. It cannot continue, however. Those of us staying here in South Africa, whether out of choice or necessity, have ways in which we can take responsibility. This is a loaded word for most, borne by the incorrect understanding that responsibility means guilt. It does not. It literally means ability to respond. So how can we respond to the crisis sweeping this fragile nation? How do we respond to the knowledge that safety and security, already problematic, is getting worse while we do not trust our police force?

  • We can and must arm ourselves. We can create community security groups. We can take measures to secure our properties and cars.
  • We can offer or receive, or at least organise, self-defence training for girls.
  • We can apply pressure to our political representatives of our areas and hold them to account.
  • We can support those entities working on education and business development more than supporting free handouts.

Of course, this is not enough and not immediate, but here we are.

I would like to say that this is not my Africa:

Looting in Johannesburg CBD, 2019-09-02; Source: SABC.

I would like to say that this is my Africa:

Cheetah near road, Rhino and Lion Reserve; Source: Sharon Salomon.

Both are within a 30 minute drive from my home. They are both my Africa.  It is all of ours. We are not a homogeneous nation, and we are not supposed to be. We are a rainbow of separate colours which together are supposed to make something beautiful. So, what shall we do?

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