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Targeted looting by civilians is behaviour learnt from...

Defend Truth


Targeted looting by civilians is behaviour learnt from their political ‘masters’


Thamsanqa D Malinga is director at Mkabayi Management Consultants; a writer, columnist, and political commentator, as well as author of Blame Me on Apartheid and A Dream Betrayed.

The revelations at the Zondo Commission paint a heinous picture of the gross looting that has left the country ungovernable. Maybe this tells us that the governing party has either not let go of its Eighties’ call to render the country ungovernable, or it simply does not care.

In the 1980s, while the ANC was in exile, it made a call through its alliance with civil society movements to “make the country ungovernable”, using consumer boycotts as part of that strategy alongside the tactic of targeting. What this meant was that delivery trucks belonging to big retailers would be labelled as such, meaning that they should be attacked, stoned and looted if they dared drive into townships.

All that was needed to activate the looting spree was for someone to shout “target!” and out of nowhere, bricks would be thrown at the truck to force it to stop and like ants to a sugar pot, residents would encircle it and loot. In those days, my father drove a truck for one of the big soft drink companies; fear gripped us every time he had to go to work as we never knew if he would make it back or would become a victim of the “target” call in one of the townships he would be driving to.

This tactic eventually led, I remember well, to big businesses hiring armed guards to accompany their trucks into townships. It was no surprise that the “target” tactic gave us the gruesome Trojan Horse killings in Athlone in 1985. Since the attacks had escalated to stoning government vehicles, the stoning of the truck in Athlone was part of the call of ungovernability and trigger-happy police saw an opportunity to mow down young people — casualties of war, martyrs or targets of a racist army? That is a story for another day.

Looking back, the “targets” stratagem, albeit its anti-apartheid intent and debatable success, was the stinging breeding ground for a legacy for which we were to later pay a dear price.

Recently I saw a social media post by former government spokesperson Themba Maseko in which he was commenting on a front-page image in one of the daily newspapers, unrelated to the headline. The image was part of the many that I have seen on social media and private messaging apps depicting the crumbling state of our rail infrastructure — train stations and other rail infrastructure being looted with impunity. The headline was about the testimony presented at the Zondo Commission on the supposed looting at the state intelligence.

Maseko’s remark was just one word — “Sh*t”, he wrote. One word, but it said a lot. It is just one word, but it cut a painful cry at the new “target”, a state where people have nothing, yet their country is being looted like the delivery trucks of the apartheid era.

The revelations at the Zondo Commission, whatever each side deems them to be, paint a heinous picture of the gross looting that has resulted in the ungovernability of the country. Maybe this tells us that the governing party has either not let go of its Eighties’ call to render the country ungovernable, or it simply does not care — like many African despots who have turned their countries into their little fiefdoms.

If the view is wrong, then my question is why do we live in a country where government ministers, the so-called representatives of the people, want to live a Hollywood lifestyle with their own show of “The Real Ministers of South Africa”, flaunting ill-gained opulence at the expense of a starving, sick nation without water, bread, roads, education and so forth? How is it that their children, comrades and affiliates are given access to the public purse to live like the spoilt children of African dictators — the flamboyant Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the president of the oil-rich West African nation of Equatorial Guinea, and Isabel dos Santos, eldest daughter of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, spring to mind.

The Zondo Commission and all the other revelations we come across daily should push us to question the governing party’s operation while in exile and some of the underground activities within South Africa, as well as deliberations at the dawn of democracy. Often when quizzed about its operation in exile, the ANC has done what it does best — create a laager around the issue.

The Hani Memorandum issue is a reflection of how the ANC does not tackle internal malfeasance and its lack of holding those entrusted with power accountable. Hugh William MacMillan writes that Hani and his comrades were “cautioned to treat the matter as highly confidential and in no circumstances to disclose its existence to people who did not belong to the organisation”.

Many writers have raised the issue of mismanagement of funds by the movement while in exile and the flamboyance of party leadership against the backdrop of starving freedom fighters in camps is well documented.

We have a crisis of rail infrastructure being looted — one means of ferrying people to work and goods across the country is being rendered useless — and trucks are burning on the N3, yet the ministers of state security and transport do not utter a word.

It took us years to register in our minds the use of the South African version of crack cocaine — nyaope — as a drug, and while young people were getting hooked, our government was focused on its public purse “target”. However, ask about who is on which slate in the ANC, and state security will most probably be able to compile a dossier.

Our country is the post-apartheid “target”. The ghost of the Eighties’ looting spree is back to haunt us. Like the shout that was used in the townships during the apartheid era for people to attack and loot a delivery vehicle, the governing party, its comrades and their ilk seem to have responded to a new “target” call and have gone on to plunder the country. We should be bothered, but because we know that nothing will happen to these wicked looters, we have suffered paralysis.

When citizens loot trucks that have lost their loads on the freeway or trash a shop during a service delivery protest, this is behaviour that cascaded from those in power. The hungry ones in the forgotten townships cannot access the “target” (the state purse) and they then take on the nearest “target”.  

The level of corruption, whether revealed at the Zondo Commission or by investigative journalists, and the accompanying neglect and degradation of the country’s infrastructure, as well as the abuse of state agencies for the governing party’s benefit, can be only be decried as in Themba Maseko’s social media post — “Sh*t!” DM


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