South Africa

AGE OF ANARCHY WEBINAR

Making sense of the violence: SA social media and the poor ‘weaponised by the leaders of chaos’

From left: Economist Iraj Abedian. (Photo: Supplied) | Durban-based journalist Desiree Erasmus. (Photo: Supplied) | People block off a road in Jeppestown in Johannesburg on 11 July 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

‘We need a radical ethical transformation,’ said economist Iraj Abedian during a Daily Maverick webinar discussion on the recent violence and unrest that has rocked the country.

Economist Iraj *Abedian convened with Daily Maverick journalist Desiree Erasmus and host Marianne Thamm at a Daily Maverick webinar event on Sunday evening to unpack the violence which has unfolded in parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal this week and look at where South Africa is headed. 

“It’s been a hell of a ride. It’s been emotional; it’s been traumatic,” said Erasmus, who has been on the ground reporting on the violence in her home province of KwaZulu-Natal for the past week. 

“The devastation that I saw was unprecedented,” she said. 

That being said, Erasmus said what she is experiencing now, after a week of carnage, is a sense of “hope and renewal” that she believed she had lost. 

This was after she had seen community members come together in droves to clean up and rebuild what was lost. 

Abedian agreed with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks on Friday that the unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal is not an “ethnic mobilisation”, but a strategy where the instigators of this insurrection sought to “paralyse the economy” and destroy the infrastructure of South Africa’s regional-national economy. 

According to Abedian, the objective of the insurrection was to “destroy the economic underpinning of domestic commerce” which would ultimately lead to the nation’s frustration over a lack of basic services, including food and medicine. 

The South African government was ultimately unprepared for the manner in which the attack came, he said. “They did not assume, or operate on the basis that this group would opt for the destruction of our economic infrastructure,” said Abedian.

In the past week, we have also seen how “social media and the poor have been weaponised” by leaders of the chaos, said Thamm. 

In response to this insurrection, Abedian said South Africa had seen taxi drivers, community members and ordinary citizens across “racial groupings and economic structures” come together to pick up the pieces.  

The violence in parts of KwaZulu-Natal had once again “highlighted big gaps in our society”, said Abedian. These gaps had become patently clear in “our security systems, our police force, our intelligence coordination and the speed at which Cabinet must respond” to crises such as these. 

The response of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to the situation in KwaZulu-Natal “was wholly inadequate”, said Erasmus. 

“There was no response,” she said. 

Erasmus and Thamm pinned the lacklustre response of the SAPS on a lack of resources and training, corruption and a breakdown in leadership. Ensuring “budgets are increased and training is amplified” was essential.

So, what next? 

What the government does with the region of KwaZulu-Natal and the instigators of the violence is paramount. According to Erasmus, if the ANC wants to move forward in the province, “it has to renounce factions that bring it into disrepute”.

But, Erasmus was not optimistic that this “culling” within KZN’s ANC would happen. 

“What the ANC needs to do now, will not happen,” she said. There was a great deal of support for Jacob Zuma within the province and within the ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal, said Erasmus.

“I can’t see it changing anytime soon. Jacob Zuma has done a lot in his area in particular, for the folks on the ground. And that’s something in particular that you cannot get away from.” 

Abedian said if change did not take place “quickly, openly and legally” it would undermine South Africa’s economic ranking.

“[South Africa] needs a radical ethical transformation,” he said. This means we need an ethical reimagining of what society we want to be. 

“South Africa is at a watershed moment, where the people need to pull resources together across a different type of configuration than political parties, that will look at the welfare of society and communities,” he said. 

“The power does really rest with the people,” said Erasmus. “To see what I’ve seen this week — the power rests with the people.” DM

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Iraj Abedian is director of Inkululeko NPO, which houses Scorpio, Maverick Citizen and Our Burning Planet.

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All Comments 3

  • Yep, I get it but the reality is the people are paying. First, we pay the politicians, then we pay for corrective commissions, then we pay the courts to prosecute the suckers, then we pay to clean up their mess. If this is a democracy, it sucks.

  • I found the comment by Abedian that a radical ethical transformation is needed particularly inciteful.
    This is in light of the scenes that played out on eNCA while Ramaphosa was having his family meeting last week relevant. There he was jabbering away while the mall in Umbilo was being looted. None of the looters looked emaciated or poor. On the contrary, they were well dressed and rotund with nice vehicles waiting to take them and their loot home.
    Erasmus confirmed that she witnessed residents in this area where she lives bringing items to their homes.
    What lies behind these people behaving like that?

  • Remember the burning of train sets in Cape Town? More recently an explosion at a pump station and two derailings on the coal line? Are these instances not related?