You may have seen some reports of South Africa in the news this week. In case you’re not sure what’s actually going on, here’s the short version:
Last week, our former president, Jacob Zuma, went to prison for contempt of court (I’m not going to get into the details of why, as I try to keep politics off my blog). His supporters took to the streets to protest, the protests turned violent, and on Monday devolved into large-scale looting and riots in several parts of the country. Including Kwazulu-Natal, where I live.
Across the province armed mobs descended on businesses, factories and warehouses, taking everything they could carry, vandalising and burning everything they couldn’t. They blocked off national roads, access to cities and towns, and torched trucks.
Miraculously in my town not a single business was looted – early on Monday already our police service, security companies, and private citizens co-ordinated by our community policing forums, blocked off access routes to town and somehow managed to keep the looters at bay, and to drive those who did come through (passing less than 2 km from my house) back. But one person (that I know of), a high school senior who was part of a group of protesters who got into a confrontation with the police, was killed.
In our sister-town across the highway, the entire business district was looted, with some businesses completely destroyed, and several sugar cane farms were torched.
I’ve had people reach out to check if we’re okay. First, thank you to all who did. You have no idea how much that means.
We’re not okay, but we’re safe. We’re safe, but we’re stressed out and tired, tired from sitting up at night praying while others patrol the streets, tired from hiding our fear and stress from Elizabeth, so she can enjoy the innocence and ignorance of childhood for a while longer. And yes, we’re afraid that things will start escalating again, though we bury that fear very deep down lest we fall into despair.
And while I have faith that this too shall pass, I can’t help but worry about what still lies ahead.
With the entire goods distribution chain disrupted, with stores and warehouses destroyed, and the roads not yet safe for delivery trucks to bring in new stock, there’s a real danger of food running out. Petrol pumps are already running dry. In a stroke of luck we bought some groceries over the weekend, so we won’t go hungry, but from tomorrow I’m taking my coffee black, and there won’t be a birthday cake for Elizabeth when she turns five on Monday. Many people are not as lucky as we are.
But I’m even more concerned about the other, long-term effects. As much as our community rallied together across different races to protect our town and to start cleaning up in the aftermath, these events have defined a new Us and a new Them. Seeing my neighbour walk down the street with a firearm strapped to his hip, talking about shooting first, and hearing people refer to the looters simply as “the enemy”, fills me with dread at where we’re heading. Rebuilding the businesses (those that can be rebuilt – for many who were already struggling due to Covid, this was likely the final nail in the coffin) will take months. Rebuilding the new rifts this has created in our community will take years.
As we ride out the storm, if you believe in prayer I ask you to please pray. Pray for peace to be restored, and for shelves to remain stocked so people can have enough to eat. Pray for hope, faith and compassion to prevail over fear, anger and hate. Pray for the people defending our towns, police, army and civilians alike. Pray for their safety, but also that they won’t need to reach for a weapon and take something that can’t be given back. Pray for the people doing the looting, most of whom are simply desperate, angry and frustrated after years of poverty and broken promises, making them easy to manipulate for those with political agendas.
Above all, pray for healing of the divisions in our country. While there has been many setbacks and failures along the way, South Africa has come a long way since our first democratic elections in 1994, and we’re running the risk of going back to square one. Pray that we’ll have the courage to finally address the rift between rich and poor, in concrete, sustainable ways instead of just talking about it. Pray that our leaders will finally put politics and personal gain aside and do what’s best for the people they were elected to serve.
Pray that we come out of this stronger, not more divided.