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SAHRC Unrest Hearing: ‘Looters had free-for-all as government, cops were absent’

Professor Paulus Mzomuhle Zulu says South Africa lacks leadership. Picture: Facebook/SA Human Rights Commission

Professor Paulus Mzomuhle Zulu says South Africa lacks leadership. Picture: Facebook/SA Human Rights Commission

Published Nov 30, 2021


DURBAN - PROFESSOR Paulus Mzomuhle Zulu, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Sociology and Political Science Department and the director of the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit for 35 years, says the country lacks leadership.

Zulu was speaking on Monday at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) National Investigative Hearing into the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

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He said communication during the unrest was largely via social media and that crowds went through areas already prepared for them. Ordinary rank and file looters did not have the equipment to break into business premises, he said.

“The businesses were opened for them by people armed with grinders and crowbars. It was carried out with expertise.”

Zulu said the crowd was divided into three segments. People living from hand-to-mouth who did not have pantries to store food collected enough to feed themselves for a few days; the not very wealthy collected edible and long-lasting items; and those who owned vehicles collected hardware to keep or sell.

The unrest coincided with the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma and social scientists wanted to get to the roots of the insurrection, he said.

“There must be a greater force exploiting the political entrepreneurship. It is this force we are trying to fathom. The entire socio-political climate in the country is to a certain extent ready for such happenings. We’ve reached a position of near anarchy and an anomaly in the social system in South Africa with a disjointed government at the centre.”

The country has a moral system that has decayed almost to the bottom and a social system that has been polluted over decades, Zulu said. He added that we have not been able to create a South African nation ideologically or materially.

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When he drove through Pinetown, during the unrest, he saw more than a 100 vehicles parked outside Sanlam Centre with looted goods.

“At the intersection a policeman in uniform was directing traffic. I do not know whether the primary duty of a police officer is to control traffic or to arrest offenders. There were also anecdotal episodes of policemen claiming they were told to be on leave. Either the police were outnumbered or did not want to act.”

Zulu said what happened in Phoenix could have happened anywhere else. Given the mistrust and empirical view of Africans being looters had created or criminalised any African that went into Phoenix.

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“The majority of looters were allegedly indigenous Africans. The spillover of looters from the warehouses into Phoenix would have been sufficient cause for racial conflagration.

“I do not think racial or long-lasting racial animosities caused incidents in Phoenix. In the same breath, long-lasting racial distrust could easily be aggravated by the events in Phoenix.

“Twenty-eight years into democracy, Durban is becoming a slum. The government needs to be morally and ethically revamped. One cannot deal with looting or the unrest in the context of a dysfunctional state. The magnitude, organisation and targets are unprecedented. Who are the architects behind it?”

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Abahlali baseMjondolo spokesperson Sbu Zikode. Picture : SAHRC -Facebook

Abahlali baseMjondolo spokesperson Sbu Zikode said the unrest had brought shame on South Africans and was disgraceful. Some involved in the looting did introspection and found it was immoral and against traditional values.

Zikode said the anger of the poor can go in many directions – the looting was a result of starvation; not support for Zuma. “We have warned that we were sitting on a ticking time bomb. Poverty and hunger were a bomb. Zuma’s people lit the fuse.”

Zikode said the country has a leadership vacuum and nobody wanted to take responsibility. The organisers and strategists took advantage of poor people. The instigators had the power to protect the looters.

“We called it a food riot. People were not stealing. They were taking. It was Christmas Day in South Africa that destroyed our country. We do not want to criminalise poverty.

“People were excited with this opportunity. They could have all they wanted with the support of the police and the government. Both were absent.”

Zikode also said a politician had edited a statement by Abahlali and implied his organisation was anti-Muslim.

Zikode believes that politicians and the people around them were actively trying to divide people and turn people against one another.

“We work closely with the Muslim community. They are the first to assist us during disasters.”

Zikode said job creation was needed. He said that the SAPS should stop acting on instructions from politicians.

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