July 2021 Unrest: Lessons for a nation striving to rebuild

The Game Warehouse in Durban which was the scene of massive looting during the July 2021 civil unrest in KZN. File Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

The Game Warehouse in Durban which was the scene of massive looting during the July 2021 civil unrest in KZN. File Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 8, 2023


In mid-July 2021, South Africa experienced one of its most severe episodes of socio-political unrest in recent history.

The violent protests, rampant looting and widespread destruction of private and public properties, primarily in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng, left a deep scar on the nation.

As South Africa reflects on the aftermath of this dark chapter, Dr Bhasela Yalezo from the University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Business and Leadership shared his insights on the economic factors that drove the violence and looting, the current situation, and the necessary steps the government should take to prevent such an event from happening again.

According to Yalezo, there were two main drivers behind the violence and looting.

"One being opportunistic, two the confusion that might have been created politically," he explains.

He further adds, "But also because of the desperate situation where they find themselves because some thought they might be getting food, some thought they were getting assets which they will not normally buy. It also opened the door to opportunistic people who were not in need of anything who involved themselves in the situation."

Regarding the economic changes since the unrest, Yalezo highlights that the poverty dynamics and struggles faced by South Africans have not improved.

"The situation in terms of poverty dynamics or South Africans struggling has not changed because the economy is not really performing. It's not really doing well. We don't really have people who are better off now than before," he said.

Yalezo also notes the impact on businesses, saying, "Some of those businesses which were looted were not able to recover."

Yalezo emphasises the need for the government to address the underlying grievances and frustrations that led to the unrest, particularly among marginalised communities. "Definitely, we need to improve our intelligence," he asserts.

He also highlights the government's responsibility to alleviate poverty and support businesses, stating, "You can't have a majority of youth which is unemployed and then hope that you will not have underlying effects or like social unrest ... Government needs to do much more than they've ever done to uplift South Africans, but also to deal with social ills we have."

Expressing his hope that South Africa has learned from this dark chapter, Yalezo added, "I hope the mass looting that happened in South Africa was for the last time ... I hope now that we've seen something of this nature, we are wiser as South Africans, because looting for one day has an impact for the next five to 10 years."

He emphasises the need to reject criminal elements that hinder the economy and called for continued government support to businesses that were unable to recover.

As the nation reflects on the aftermath of the July 2021 unrest, it is clear that there are valuable lessons to be learned.

South Africa must address the economic factors, alleviate poverty, enhance intelligence capabilities, and support businesses to ensure that such a dark chapter never occurs again. Only through collective efforts can the nation move forward, rebuild affected communities and prevent the recurrence of this painful chapter in South Africa's history.

IOL News