By any possible measurement, the country today has more dignity and wealth than at any other perilous moment in history.
|This Political Research Note was prepared by JP Landman in his personal capacity. JP is an independent political and economic analyst and the opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the views of the Nedbank Group.|
To quote one of our own, Alan Paton said in 1985, ‘South Africa is a place where you despair on Monday and hope on Tuesday.’
As violence started and spread, the police were overwhelmed. Government was slow in its response. There was clearly an intelligence failure of massive proportions. At least 212 people died. Billions of rands of damage was caused. It took the authorities a week to re-establish order. Isolated incidents are still occurring.
But calm did return. No state of emergency (which would have suspended many of our freedoms) was declared and no shoot-to-kill orders were given. Police and troops were deployed, but there is no evidence so far that any of the 212 dead were killed by law enforcement officers. Instead, actions by vigilantes and private security, as well as trampling during looting stampedes, are blamed. Order was restored in line with the rule of law.
By Sunday more than 3 400 people had been arrested. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has created a dedicated team of prosecutors to oppose bail and handle the prosecutions. Special court rolls have been created to process these cases quickly.
Rampant insurrection and looting were met with old-fashioned rule-of-law sanctions.
Rule of law now requires that the alleged instigators be arrested and brought before the courts.
So far, the violence started, spread, peaked and tapered down over eight days. One week after the critical N3 route between Gauteng and KZN was closed by burning trucks, it was open again, with traffic flowing freely. Pick n Pay loaded trucks and formed a convoy of more than three kilometres, transporting goods from Gauteng to Durban to restock the big Hyperama there. By Sunday 93 trucks were on the highway every hour. Activities resumed in the harbours of Richards Bay and are beginning to normalise in Durban. Even one of Jacob Zuma’s son, who earlier called for ‘responsible looting’, is now calling for calm.
However, it will be over only when it is over. Attacks are still expected at key facilities. The lives of ANC leaders may be in danger. Protection for Constitutional Court justices has been upgraded. Key points are being guarded. Vigilance is still required.
In the chaos it was easy to lose sight of a major achievement: a former president was arrested and incarcerated. What was thought to be impossible, putting the former leader of the (still) governing party in jail, happened. There was no violence around his arrest – a singular achievement for the police. Both before and after, pleas and pressure for a pardon and his release came from within and outside of the ANC, but the authorities are not yielding. Constitutionalism has triumphed in the most visible way.
Today Mr Zuma will appear on video in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in his long-running corruption case. He has already lodged an application for postponement; we will hear what the judge says.
During the week of looting a remarkable thing happened: communities united against it. Citizens from Soweto to Mahikeng, Heidelberg, Kimberley, Cape Town and in the provinces of Limpopo and the Eastern Cape were reported to have ‘defended’ malls and shops against looters. Reports also appeared of ordinary citizens putting up roadblocks, forcing looters to offload their stolen goods and then taking the looters to the police. The enfant terrible of South Africa, taxis, joined the authorities in the forefront of maintaining order. In the port city of Gqeberha taxi operators chased down the noisy instigator and Zuma supporter Andile Lungisa, took him to various taxi ranks and forced him to address people and denounce violence. Truly, a case of ex Africa semper aliquid novi (out of Africa there is always something new)!
Even in the heart of the unrest, KZN, taxi associations distanced themselves from the violence. Taxis were instructed not to transport looters or loot. The new Zulu king condemned the violence and drew a clear distinction between the Zulu nation and KZN perpetrators and looters. ‘I never imagined that my father’s people would be involved in the burning of their own country … my father’s people are committing suicide’.
The united efforts of people from all walks of life in the clean-up afterwards were astonishing. People in wheelchairs lent a hand. One Facebook group, started on Tuesday, had 55 000 members by the weekend, posting links to registered NGOs for support and organising clean-up teams from Alexandra to Pietermaritzburg.
It was the French political philosopher Alexis de Tochville who coined the phrase ‘habits of the heart’, referring to deep commitments that will help sustain democracy. The Constitution must not remain a paper miracle, playing out only in the courts. It must live in people’s hearts. After this week one is left with a sense that the habits of the heart in South Africa just got a little bit stronger. What was supposed to be a ‘perfect storm’ that would engulf the country crashed against the rock of commitment to order and democracy.
Granted, the crashing took place with considerable damage, but at least reinforcing the habits.
South African historian Professor Lindie Koorts summarised the long history of violent conflict in South Africa dating back to the genocide of the Khoi and the San. There was the 1914 rebellion by Afrikaners who lost all in the Anglo–Boer War. It was the time of the prophet Hans van Rensburg, who promised that the flags of the old Boer republics would again fly proudly. In 1921 another prophet, Enoch Mgijima, led his followers at the massacre of Bulhoek in which 200 people were killed. A year later, in 1922, Prime Minister Jan Smuts unleashed the Defence Force against striking (white) mineworkers. More than 700 died. Afrikanerdom never forgave him for that. In 1949 violence broke out between Indian and black people in Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Homes, shops and factories were destroyed; 142 people died. In 1960 Sharpeville became known worldwide, only to be surpassed in 1976 by Soweto. In the 1980s we had a low-level civil war and a state of emergency.
Every single time South Africa pulled back from the precipice.
Not only did we pull back, but we also built back better, advancing steadily. By any possible measurement, the country today has more dignity and wealth than at any of these perilous moments in history. At the time of writing, it certainly looked as if this would persist, even if there are further incidents. As another historian, Cornelis de Kiewiet, wrote in 1943, South Africa is a country that advances through political disasters and economic windfalls. It is still true.
|This is a political research note and was prepared by JP Landman in his personal capacity. Landman is an independent political and economic analyst and the opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the views of the Nedbank Group.
Nedbank Private Wealth, an authorised financial services provider through Nedgroup Private Wealth Pty Ltd Reg No 1997/009637/07 (FSP828), registered credit provider through Nedbank Ltd Reg No 1951/000009/06 (NCRCP16), and member of JSE Ltd through Nedgroup Private Wealth Stockbrokers Pty Ltd Reg No 1996/015589/07 (NCRCP59).
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