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Frustration, lawlessness caused looting, says expert

Police try to dispersing the crowd looting shops in Durban. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Police try to dispersing the crowd looting shops in Durban. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 31, 2021


The alleged “Mercedes looter” wore trendy transparent glasses matching those of his lawyer’s as he stood before a Durban magistrate.

With roots in Cowies Hill, he may not have fitted the image of someone driven to such action by poverty, inequality and unemployment.

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Neither may two elite school products, in the same boat but in separate cases, who were also nabbed after being recognised on videos.

While this privileged trio are probably “rare exceptions”, according to GG Alcock, author of Kasinomics and an expert on the informal economy, the three factors would also have not applied to many of the thousands of looters.

Alcock is at pains not to discount the existence of dirt poor and stinking rich people in South Africa, but stresses that they occupy only 10% at the either side of the spectrum.

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“Eighty percent are in between and part of the vast middle class,” he said, citing the Statistics SA’s General Household Survey of 2019 that approached 250 000 people “rather than a quick 200”.

“If you can afford a house rather than a shack, you probably had enough food,” he told the Independent on Saturday, also noting that few spaza shops were looted.

“Looters targeted shopping centres in commercial areas. If it was about poverty, why did they run past the spaza shops and go for the flat screen television sets at Makro? It’s quite a long run past the spazas and there were lots of them and quite a long drive to the malls and warehouses linked to the white monopoly capital discourse.”

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Alcock said while unemployment was unacceptably high, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was more than likely around 10% rather than the 30% that is so often quoted.

“We don’t measure anyone who doesn’t have a payslip,” he said.

“Informal businesspeople often say they have no job. But what about the R20 billion a year earned through backroom rentals? The 250 000 taxi drivers, 200 000 conductors and 5 000 marshals?”

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He said there was a mismatch between the amount declared in township earnings and that spent in township malls.

“We are told we are the most unequal society in the world.

“We measure extremes. We misread or misunderstand how to interpret data and information. We take two points on a data continuum, the highs and the lows, and we reflect on those. We don’t look at the middle.”

Alcock said the looting and rioting, initiated by instigators with opportunists following in their wake and driven by WhatsApp communication, happened on the scale it did because of frustration.

He said that three months after the first lockdown he had gone on record saying township people were going to get frustrated by the loss of jobs and informal sector income as well as being denied activities such as social drinking, soccer and church and they would start helping themselves.

“I was a year out,” he remarked.

“I believe frustration is one of the driving things that let this spark flash like it did,” he said, noting the disproportionate amount of bottle stores looted.

“The government underestimated the impact of the lockdown. With the lawlessness, people knew they could get away with it.”

Alcock said the terrible danger about saying the unrest was caused by poverty, inequality and unemployment is that it generates an excuse for people and endorses it.

“It will create a repeat,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Mbuso Moloi, 30, appeared on Thursday in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on charges of public violence, theft, trespassing and driving a car with false number plates. The case was postponed to August 3 when he is expected to apply for bail.

He returned down the steps from the dock to the cells in a worn-looking maroon hoodie and pink t-shirt hanging out from under it, having spent a night in custody after handing himself in to police the day before.

Qhawe Sithole, the Ubuntu Wealth chief executive and former Hilton College pupil who was arrested for alleged looting, is out on bail.

Stolen items were allegedly found in his Jeep Wrangler at a police roadblock in Durban.

Sithole is also a UCT, University of Free State and the London School of Economics alumni.

The Independent on Saturday

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