Picking up the pieces: Hundreds killed in unrest probably won’t be the last
Unless we find a way to deal with our country's issues realistically, it's only a matter of time till we see similar unrest again.
A security officer walks through an entrance at Ndofaya Mall in Meadowlands, Soweto, under a gate with the words “Free Zuma” spray-painted on, during a clean-up operation, 20 July 2021, after rampant looting last week. Ten people died in a stampede at the shopping centre. Picture: Michel Bega
It's been nearly three weeks since the start of the deadly violence which erupted across parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and in typical South African fashion, the country has simply started picking up the pieces and gone back to what passes for normal in this part of the world. Clean-up operations are in full swing, and we've started making the calculations of how much the violence has cost us in monetary terms (minus the inevitable kickbacks and other taxes, of course). Ndofaya Mall in Meadowlands, Soweto is seen during a clean-up operation, 20 July 2021, after rampant looting last week.…
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It’s been nearly three weeks since the start of the deadly violence which erupted across parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and in typical South African fashion, the country has simply started picking up the pieces and gone back to what passes for normal in this part of the world.
Clean-up operations are in full swing, and we’ve started making the calculations of how much the violence has cost us in monetary terms (minus the inevitable kickbacks and other taxes, of course).
What can’t be calculated is the amount of trauma suffered by those who lost family members during the violence. By last week the total number of deaths had reached nearly 340, 79 of these being from Gauteng, and 258 in KZN.
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For the majority of South Africans the dead are just nameless numbers, but to Noluthando Piliso one of those numbers was a child she had raised as her own since 2009.
“She was my baby,” Piliso said while speaking to The Citizen at her home in Meadowlands, Soweto. “She was my last baby.”
Piliso’s baby was her niece, 14-year-old Tinyiko Ndlovu, one of 11 people who died in a stampede during looting at the nearby Ndofaya Mall.
Ndlovu’s family still have no idea why her “bubbly child” she was at the mall in the first place, or why she had become caught up in the looting.
“Actually I don’t know what happened,” Piliso said. “According to me, she was supposed to be in the house, not going outside. But you can’t prevent anything like that, because she was a child and she had to go outside and play with other children.”
The family found out that she was among those trampled at the mall, when a friend called Tinyiko’s older sister Ntokozo, and informed her that one of the bodies lying outside the centre resembles the 14 year-old.
Ntokozo says she couldn’t understand what drove her sister to join the looting either, nor why the unrest happened in the first place.
The protests broke out following the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma on contempt charges, following his refusal to abide by a Constitutional Court order to appear before the Zondo Commission.
“I feel angry, because my little sister passed away in the process. I didn’t even know she was there…
“What I don’t understand is why people were doing this and destroying things … For a man who doesn’t even know them…”
Country’s flaws exposed
Zuma’s supporters may have been the ones who lit the fuse, but analysts and scholars have posited a myriad of reasons for why the powder keg was primed for such a spectacular explosion in the first place.
The violence, described as the worst unrest since the advent of democracy, has once again shone a glaring spotlight on the country’s inequality problem.
Nearly half the country’s workforce (42.3%) is unemployed, with the youth unemployment numbers looking even worse.
The country’s Gini coefficient is a massive 63.0, placing it right at the bottom of the pile of the world’s most unequal countries . This means that more than 70% of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 10%, while the bottom 60% can hardly scrape together more than 5% thereof.
Additionally, more than half the country’s population live in abject poverty, earning less than R1200 per month.
This poverty was artfully weaponised by those behind the supposed insurrection.
Aside from reminding us of the extreme poverty, the protests also emphasised the complete ineptitude of the country’s security cluster.
Despite warnings from within the Zuma camp days before his arrest and the blatant instigation by his children on Twitter, crime intelligence and State Security seemed to be caught napping.
State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo’s report warning of the coming unrest apparently got lost in the mail, on its way to police minister Bheki Cele, leaving police flatfooted in the face of the violence.
This has led to calls for the sacking of both ministers, and highlighted just how incapable of leadership our supposed leaders actually are.
Another chance for change lost?
And now we’re here.
In typical South African fashion, once again, we’ve started the usual self-congratulatory backpatting, and telling stories of our miraculous ability to overcome any setback thrown at us.
The tales of communities coming together to protect their supermarkets are trotted out held up as evidence of how we’ve overcome racism and SA is the Kumbaya capital of the world again. Those of racial profiling and innocent people being prevented from buying food in the midst of the chaos dismissed as freak occurrences, relegated to tiny enclaves of society.
The president, meanwhile, has attempted to calm the hungry populace with the reintroduction of a R350 relief grant, for those who have no other means to support themselves, while the finance minister has grudgingly thanked the apartheid government for having the foresight to create an insurance scheme which can pay the wealthy when the poors get angry and destroy things.
We’ve gone back to discussing how to repair our economy, and barely a word is mentioned about how we will include more people in this economy.
The Tinyiko Ndlovus and hundreds of others are buried and forgotten by all but their families, while we pick up the pieces and go back to pretending something isn’t very wrong with our country.
We search for quick fixes to the chancre, and neglect treating the disease behind it and finding a way to prevent it from recurring.
We would rather pretend that the recent violence is some inexplicable anomaly, ignited purely by politics and the desire to destabilise the current leadership, than face the fact that we need a massive overhaul of the way we do things in this country.
And unless we admit this to ourselves, and start looking past the meaningless short-term solutions, it’s only a matter of time till the next narcissist decides to stoke the embers, and we get back to pretending we don’t know how this could happen.