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Unprecedented unrest and violence consequences in South Africa

Dr Sazelo Michael Mkhize and Dr Londeka Princess Ngubane
Dr Sazelo Michael Mkhize and Dr Londeka Princess Ngubane

South Africa is facing its worst unrest in decades as protests over the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma have led to spiraling violence and looting (Pietromarchi and Siddiqui, 2020). The unrest started as a protest against incarcerating Former president Jacob Zuma, where supporters blocked roads in Durban and Johannesburg. Roads especially highways were targeted and blocked by the sand offloaded by trucks and also the burning of tires.

Is it blurred how protest developed into looting and violence as the goal of the protest was for the former president Mr. Jacob Zuma to be released from prison. The unrest ended up having negative consequences and the motive shifted from protesting to support, to individuals persuading their agendas by looting and violence that irrupted. This is realized in 3 fold, leisure time from youth, poverty, and criminality.

We have a challenge of unemployment in South Africa, thus there is an enormous percentage of youth with leisure time. Some saw the opportunity to do something with their lives not even understanding the profound reasons behind supporting Mr. Zuma not to be jailed. 

Further to that, people stirred from supporting and stalling streets to looting food driven by poverty and used the opportunity to steal as if they did it to support Mr. Zuma. Pietromarchi and Siddiqui (2021) argue that poverty has been exacerbated by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Lockdown led to many people losing their jobs, some of which were breadwinners and they were never returned to work. Thus they saw the opportunity to loot as something that was going to sustain them for a while. As looting continues unabated in most parts of KZN, the government has been forced to deploy the South African Defense Force to protect businesses and prevent the criminal activities that we see.

Consequentially, detaining Mr. Zuma gave a chance to motivated criminals to use this opportunity. Looting of shops not only for food but furnisher, destruction of hardware and petrol stations is a proof of criminal activities. The looting of warehouses for TV’s, microwaves, washing machines, bicycles, beds and matrasses is not about poverty and putting food on the table. It is pure criminality and is driven by greed. Such criminal activities lack foresight because when the current situation dies out, many of these communities such as Hammersdale, will not have places to buy essential items such as bread, oil, medicine or have their crucial needs met. The looting of warehouses and industries will be the end of many townships and informal settlements. While other people were concerned about food, criminals used the chance to engage in their daily activities openly. This is also evident through the victimization of innocent people during the looting activities others lost their belongings during the looting action. Financial experts have warned that it will ultimately be smaller and medium-sized businesses that likely won’t reopen their doors in South Africa again. Many, unlike big businesses and retailers, do not have insurance. Big businesses will eventually be able to find their feet, but it will be terribly tough for small-business owners, as many do not have the financial reserves to take the economic shock, never mind bounce back from this kind of situation,” Furthermore, shocking figures coming from different business council reveal that at “least 70% of small businesses which are affected by the violence are black-owned.” (de Nysschen 2021).

The protest also formed racial tension as residents took it upon themselves to protect not only their shopping centers but their neighborhoods from looters and vandals (Khumalo, 2021). This racial tension turned to violence as residents used firearms to protect their malls. Excessive violence between the black community of KwaMashu, Indanda, and the Indian community in Phoenix. People lost their life during this war. The criminal element was also seen as people were robbed of their phones during the violence between the two communities, opportunist criminals used this chance to engage in criminal activates when they were expected to protect their neighborhood. There is a feeling of discontent from the community as citizens feel that the government did not care about what was transpiring in Durban and Johannesburg. They compare the government’s reaction to the current unrest with lockdown in 2020. In 2020 lockdown regulations were implemented immediately and forcefully, ensuring the visibility of the police as well as deployment of soldiers. During this unrest, the government did not act immediately. Thus, a failure to lead, no foresight and poor response to citizen’s outcry has led to the violence we are currently experiencing. These protests have gone for days and have escalated as government response continues to be slow. However, new developments have surfaced as six key instigators of last week’s looting have been arrested. Three have already appeared in court, however, they remanded in custody. The Acting Minister in the presidency Khumudzo Ntshavheni made the announcement at a briefing on Monday. Among these alleged key instigators is a former radio DJ from KZN who has also been arrested. These suspects are facing charges of inciting public violence (eNCA 2021).

Dr Sazelo Michael Mkhize and Dr Londeka Princess Ngubane

University of KwaZulu Natal

Criminology and Forensic Studies