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Those who warned of a day of reckoning in South Africa were right

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Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute.

At the time of writing, Durban is reeling from massive riots, accompanied by looting on a huge scale. Violence is escalating and people are deeply fearful and angry. Social cohesion is collapsing.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

By the time this column goes to print there will have been all kinds of new developments. However, a few things can be said.

One is that the riots did not come from nowhere. With huge unemployment and people going hungry for more than a year, some sort of social explosion was inevitable. Many people thought that there might be more xenophobic attacks. But the attempts by the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association to spark a new wave of violence against foreign nationals failed.

It was the attacks on the social order by supporters of Jacob Zuma that sparked the riots. They began with the wholesale looting of supermarkets. Almost immediately the focus was on food, and not Zuma. Reporting on the riots that ascribed them to “pro-Zuma protesters” was wrongheaded.

But they then morphed into indiscriminate looting, with some middle-class and even well-off people joining in.

Many people had some sympathy for hungry people helping themselves to food. No decent person has any sympathy for people loading stolen TVs into expensive cars.

But political analyst, lecturer and writer Eusebius McKaiser made an important point earlier this week. He said that explaining the riots is not the same thing as justifying them, and that simply condemning them does not take us very far; we must explain them. His key point is that, with huge youth unemployment, millions of people do not have a stake in our democracy.

McKaiser is correct. We can condemn the looting as much as we want, but this is not an issue that can be resolved with more police. It can only be resolved by giving everyone a stake in our society.

After more than 25 years in power it is now clear that political leaders have largely failed SA. The ANC has failed economically, and it has failed to address the criminality and treason within its own ranks.

We all know that Zuma does not enjoy popular support. But he does have significant support within the ANC, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. And the party is a powerful player in local dynamics. If the national ANC does not deal with this, the province will continue to be a site of unrest.

The people need food and jobs, and the ANC needs to address the criminals and traitors in its own ranks.

No one in the ANC seems to be willing to exert decisive leadership and to root out the corrupt faction from the party. And on the ground there was no leadership during the riots. Not even the strongest social movements and trade unions were able to have any real impact. We have a systemic crisis of leadership. Where leaders have real power they have no ethics. Where leaders have ethics they do not have the power to represent the majority of the people.

All we can do as citizens is to keep demanding ethical leadership, keep opposing the thugs in the ANC who embrace Zuma and State Capture, keep working to build social cohesion, and keep remembering that without social justice there will never be peace.

Durban will not recover from this disaster for many years. Its economy has been shattered, social cohesion is in free fall and many of the city’s richer and better-educated residents will flee elsewhere, many of them moving abroad. Those who kept warning us that a day of reckoning was coming were right. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores until 24 July 2021. From 31 July 2021, DM168 will be available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores.

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