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Travelling this journey we call life, striving to enjoy the moments, not sweating the smal...
1 year ago
Last weekend, two Provinces in South Africa, erupted in unrest, the likes of which we have not seen in decades. Rioters in their thousands descended on individual cities, towns and local communities, intent on burning, destroying and looting Kwazulu-Natal, Province of my birth, epicentre of the chaos and unrest. Johannesburg, the financial hub of the country, located in Gauteng Province also bore the brunt. To give some perspective, the whole of the United Kingdom would fit inside Kwa-Zulu Natal, and the entire Province was at the mercy of rioters and looters.
Many have postured reasons, from political destabilisation to poverty to general discontent, for this violent upheaval, which saw gun battles and warfare ensue in our local neighbourhoods, petrol bombings of walled housing complexes, shopping malls gutted and destroyed, factories and trading estates set alight and burned to the ground. Every ounce of food produce and goods looted from affected stores. Distribution networks severely disrupted and threats made to electricity and water supplies. Trucks and cars set alight and left to burn in the middle of the street. Broken glass and mangled steel everywhere. Nothing was sacred. Part of the consequences of these actions was chemical spills and environmental incidents which will have untold consequences for the eastern coastline and local fishing industry. Luminous blue chemical spillage has been flowing into the ocean and is visible miles out to sea. Numerous species of marine life and birds affected have been affected in this environmental catastrophe. Octopus, crayfish, crabs, fish all washed ashore, dead. The carnage has been widespread, beyond the human experience alone.
The riots and looting were sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma. He was found guilty of contempt of court by the South African Constitutional Court, for failing to appear before a commission which was investigating the corruption in government under his term in office.
It has since emerged that this was likely a plot to overthrow the government and stage a coup, by those in the communist corner of South African politics, ardent supporters of Jacob Zuma. The idea was to destabilise the country and bring it to it's knees, whilst simultaneously depriving white South Africans of food and fuel supply. They wanted white citizens to experience the hunger and desperation that comes with poverty and loss. The government is investigating and has pledged to bring the real culprits, those in the echelons of the political sphere behind the destabilisation and unrest, to justice.
You can read my article from 12 July which includes a poem about living through the experience of the events earlier this week, and a brief synopsis, so that you can get a sense of what it was like to be caught up in the melee; the fear, the anxiety, and the loss. It is written from the perspective of feeling helpless 6000 miles away while my homeland burned, but incorporates the feelings expressed and shared with me by family and friends on the ground, and the thoughts and fears I experienced whilst viewing personal footage shared by community members, and monitoring communications almost non-stop with very little sleep.
It is now Sunday 18th July and the country has for the past few days been experiencing some calm after the storm, or perhaps a lull between storms. We are not completely sure what the true state is at the moment, although some sense of normalcy has resumed. The few local shops left standing have opened where possible. South Africans of all races have queued together to replenish provisions. Some queues have stretched miles over the past few days; miles of actual people on foot, not cars! If they are lucky enough to get to the front of the queue before stocks are depleted, they are allowed to purchase strictly rationed limits of 10-20 items with no duplicates. Things are slowly improving with distribution channels being re-established, albeit with assistance from neighbouring provinces, resulting in improved availability of food and fuel supplies, but it will take some time before things actually return to a new sense of normal.
The government has deployed the military in support of the police, too little too late, and falling short of announcing a state of emergency, for fear that this will play straight into the hands of the Zuma faction as the military is controlled by Nkosasane Zuma, the ex-wife of Jacob Zuma. It's a no win situation.
However, out of the heart of darkness of the past week has emerged many bright hearts of light. The light within it all was the strength of spirit within the communities. A small flicker grew quickly and ignited into flames of courage and hope. The resolve to unite, work together, and support each other, with food, medical supplies and armed patrols, including patrolled residential road blockades, was immense. Neighbourhood Watch Groups were bolstered with well meaning local residents and kept watch on the streets 24/7. Zello emergency chats were established together with local community emergency Whatsapp groups.
They worked in unison. They worked in community. Race, colour, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation; none of these mattered, and community has prevailed at the end of the day. They were enriched by their diversity of talents and skills and life experiences and held together with a united goal: to protect the community as a whole. To protect what was collectively built by them, collectively sustained by them and collectively owned by them. When it mattered, in the midst of fight or flight, people chose to stand together, rise above the chaos, and hold their ground. Strangers shared what little they had, to sustain and protect their community members, not knowing where their own next meal was coming from, but ensuring that nobody went hungry. They became each other's family, and nobody got left behind. They showed the instigators of this mayhem that attempts to destabilise and tear communities apart only strengthened their resolve and pulled them more tightly together.
In the calm that has existed the past few days, community communication channels are being kept open, communities have taken control of their own areas and defied local government requests to stand down, intent on protecting what is theirs in the absence of any real presence from the police or military in their areas. Strangers have become friends and group gatherings and neighbourhood braais (bbqs) are being discussed.
The clean up of vandalised, looted malls, rubbish strewn streets and burnt out factories and vehicles, is almost complete. Side by side the communities have come together and taken charge of the clean up operation. They have stood together to clean up the malls, restore shops to their prior status, sweep the roads clear of debris; to begin slowly to remove the signs of chaos and destruction that was tipped so unwantonly on their doorsteps.
Warning: video clip below contains some swearing with use of the F word
There are now reports of a shutdown of the country being planned for tomorrow. Authorities are aware and remaining vigilant. Everything still hangs on a knife edge. The aftermath has left us with an incalculable loss to the country. Whilst the financial cost is quantifiable, and runs into billions of US dollars (with an estimated 0.7% hit to GDP), the intrinsic values of trust, freedom, and co-operation between opposing sides, have been challenged to breaking point and beyond. Tensions, particularly in Kwa-Zulu Natal, remain high between those who support the Zuma faction and the communities who stand opposed. It remains to be seen whether this will be exploited by the puppet masters holding the strings.
The powder keg remains. We just hope and pray that nobody re-lights the fuse!