FRIDAY BRIEFING | Violence, anger and chaos: the week that broke SA – and what the future looks like

FRIDAY BRIEFING | Violence, anger and chaos: the week that broke SA – and what the future looks like

Friday Briefing

Violence, anger and despair: The week that broke South Africa

No one expected that, a week after former president Jacob Zuma was taken away to serve a 15-month sentence for failing to adhere to a court order to appear before the Zondo Commission, there would be parts of the south coast in KwaZulu-Natal where residents would have to queue for hours to get their hands on the little food left in unlooted stores.  

Zuma’s arrest last Wednesday was the spark that set off unrest across KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, fuelled by anger over poverty and unemployment, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the weekend, small pockets of violence broke out, with trucks burnt at Mooi Plaza and protest action in Jeppestown and Hillbrow in Johannesburg. By Monday, TV news screens were filled with images of full-scale looting under way in Durban and other parts of KwaZulu-Natal. The looting rapidly spread to Alexandra, Soweto, Vosloorus, Daveyton and Tshwane in Gauteng.   

By Monday afternoon, it was announced that the SANDF would be deployed to assist an overwhelmed police force. By Thursday, it was announced that 117 people had died. 

While the violence may have taken the country’s citizens by surprise, it later became clear the looting was part of a “well-orchestrated economic sabotage”. News24 reported that the government was investigating whether former uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) operatives, some of whom worked in the security cluster, were the main instigators of the chaos the country was subjected to this week.

Former top government spy Thulani Dlomo has also been implicated. Other suspected instigators are under investigation and the DA has laid charges against Zuma’s two children, Duduzane Zuma and Duduzile Sambudla-Zuma, as well as EFF leader Julius Malema. Analysts started to question whether we were in the throes of an attempted coup. 

The crisis has put the country, already struggling economically under the strain of a pandemic, even further on the backfoot. 

Thousands of businesses are out of commission, with an estimated R16 billion worth of stock stolen in KwaZulu-Natal alone. It’s likely to compound the country’s already dire unemployment figure, and it has led to food security issues and a rise in racial issues and vigilantism.   

In this week’s Friday Briefing, we reflect on the past week’s events and analyse whether South Africa will manage to heal from this. We have submissions from the co-founder of ReimagineSA, Mamphela Ramphele, Serjeant at the Bar, the Institute for Race Relations’ Frans Cronje, University of Free State sociologist Sethulego Matebesi, political economy analyst Daniel Silke, environmental advisor Dr Anthony Turton and University of KwaZulu-Natal history lecturer Mpumeleleli Ngidi.

Stay safe, 

Vanessa Banton 

Opinions editor


Looting and violence: A toxic mix of legacy and governance failures

We need to heal our country in order to deny powermongers opportunities to mobilise excluded and marginalised young people to destabilise our society and disrupt vital pandemic management programmes, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Anarchy and violence: A reflection on an incapable state

The current anarchy, which appears to be part of a campaign to render the country uncontrollable, is perhaps a wake-up call, writes Serjeant at the Bar.

Closer to the brink of a new political realignment

The country’s economy was on a good trajectory a decade after 1994 elections, but has since tumbled, leading to the situation we are witnessing now and will likely lead to the ANC falling out of power, writes Frans Cronje.

Taming the monsters of poverty, inequality needs more than political coercion

The recent but unprecedented wave of violence in the country has highlighted the contention between the policy realm of the ANC and the gravity of unemployment and economic stagnation, writes Sethulego Matebesi.

Was South Africa’s violent week the wake-up call we needed?

It’s been a tough week for South Africans, following unrest in parts of the country but, as Daniel Silke writes, the endemic decline across governance and failure to provide growth policies set the scene for more to come. 

The rioting and violence reflected a government not in control

Anthony Turton writes that this week’s violence showed a reinvigorated civil society and government whose time in power is nearing its end.

A history of violence in the ‘KwaZulu-Natapa’ province

The looting and violence we saw recently in KwaZulu-Natal is nothing new. UKZN history lecturer, Mphumeleli Ngidi, reflects on three other incidences in the province, which bear some similarities to the recent crisis.

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