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Now more than ever we need to reach out across the barricades and our ethnic and racial divides

The aftermath of looting on Queen Nandi Drive, in Durban on July 14. File photo: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

The aftermath of looting on Queen Nandi Drive, in Durban on July 14. File photo: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 28, 2021


This was reposted from Kumi Naidoo’s Facebook page with permission.

Dear family, friends, comrades and colleagues,

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I hope this finds you well and safe, wherever you are in the world.

It’s been more than a year since I’ve made a personal social media post during which time I was trying to recover my health, after having stepped down from Amnesty International.

I want to thank you all for your many messages of encouragement and am deeply sorry that I have been unable to personally respond to them. I intended to share a message detailing my activities over the last year and to announce some of my future plans. Given the tragic developments in my country, that must wait.

I, like most South Africans, have been deeply saddened by the events that took place in our country recently. What has emerged very clearly from this attempted “insurrection” is the multiple failures of governance, misinformation and fake news, infighting among the ruling party, corruption with impunity, and deepening hunger and desperation of the majority of our people.

These have been further exacerbated by the pandemic and the economic implications of the lockdown. These weaknesses and the fact that many of our people feel genuinely abandoned, were successfully exploited to incite widespread looting and destruction by people with sinister agendas. It is important to note that the looters comprised people from all races and from all economic backgrounds.

In response, millions of ordinary South Africans of all races, classes and backgrounds have displayed immense resilience, standing up to do what the government has failed to, by rallying together and saying: We will not have our country and democracy destroyed, and it will not happen in our name.

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We must demand that the government answers on how it will address the crippling and deep inequality and desperate situation that many millions of our people are forced to survive under, and just barely.

It is clear that a Universal Basic Income Grant which has been called for for a long time is needed, and it is disappointing that it is only now that the government is considering this seriously.

Of course such support would not be needed and at such a scale if billions of rands were not stolen by powerful people in our government over the last decade and more, and if our country was creating decent jobs for our people.

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Communities were sadly left to defend themselves and in the process, there have been cases of individuals taking the law into their own hands by engaging in lawlessness, vigilantism and violating human rights.

Law enforcement must pursue these crimes especially where lives were lost. Similarly, the law must pursue those who have initiated this unrest, and who were hellbent on destruction and mayhem.

The law must make sure that they do not succeed in dividing us any further in the same manner apartheid sought to do, nor must they benefit from their deeds. We must resist the attempt to shift the narrative from the plotters and conspirators who instigated this violence.

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How is it that the government, with all its resources, and substantial time to have analysed the threats, was not able to secure hotspots or even provide quick relief to the most affected communities in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal?

We need the South African Human Rights Commission to launch a comprehensive and urgent investigation into the causes of the unrest, to identify the people who orchestrated the unrest and ALL human rights violations that occurred subsequently. It must identify explicitly those responsible for the government inaction that has resulted in such dire consequences for our country.

There will be those who will continue to seek to divide us. Therefore, we will need to be steadfast in our opposition to racism, intolerance, tribalism, xenophobia and violence.

In the aftermath of looting the people in KZN were not abandoned by our sisters and brothers in other parts of South Africa and this solidarity, this Ubuntu, this love that exists between so many of us is a big part of what makes us who we are.

We have come this far together and we still have so much further to go. We still have so much to learn and I am inspired by the many examples of people working together to rebuild back better.

However, continuing tensions in Phoenix and elsewhere needs calm and accountability. We need to appeal to all political leaders not to further inflame tensions at this sensitive time. Linked is a perspective helping us make sense of recent happenings, issued by Abahlali baseMjondolo, a grassroots movement that serves the poorest of the poor.

Additionally, here is an insightful interview with Abahlali baseMjondolo and Phoenix Residents Association members discussing the divisions being fostered in Phoenix, Bhambayi, and surrounding areas.

We cannot escape our past where apartheid was built on the basis of divide and rule, differentiated oppression and so on. But now, we must do everything possible to build unity amongst all communities and not allow those that thrive on division to succeed.

To the thousands of people who continue to support those whose lives have been impacted by the recent violence, with jobs lost, livelihoods destroyed and more, thank you for inspiring me and for keeping hope alive.

Now more than ever we need to reach out across the barricades and ethnic and racial divides to build the South Africa that is the inclusive, non-racial, non-sexist democracy we all committed to in 1994 under the ethical leadership of our founding father, Madiba.

Thank you for your attention. Stay safe, stay hopeful and stay engaged. Your voice and participation matters. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Warmest wishes,

Kumi Naidoo

* Kumi Naidoo was the global head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International. He is a global ambassador of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.