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KwaZulu-Natal in tatters after uprising destroys supply chain and retail sector

Violence may escalate again if people can’t get food

By Ricky Browne

As the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, some countries have other battles on their hands – some worse than others.

Over in the Caribbean, the assassination of the president of Haiti has brought uprisings in that country, while in Cuba there have been mass protests calling for liberty after 62 years of a Communist dictatorship. Both sets of protests could conceivably bring fundamental political change.

Map of South Africa from the BBC

But in terms of bloodshed, the most serious uprising right now is in South Africa, particularly the KwaZulu-Natal province , where more than 72 people have been killed over the last four or five days.

Other than deaths and mass arrests of more than 1,700 people, the supply chains of the province have been largely destroyed, with the mass looting and destruction of hundreds of mall, stores and even stalls, as thousands of people have protested the imprisonment of the 79-year-old former President Jacob Zuma.

Cyril Ramaphosa with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 Summit in Cornwall last month Photo: EPA-EFE / Hollie Adams 

“Let me be clear: we will take action to protect every person in this country against the threat of violence, intimidation, theft and looting. We will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute those who perpetrate these actions and will ensure that they face the full might of our law,” tweeted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday.

On that same day he also tweeted: “Together, we will defeat those who seek to destabilise our country, who seek to reverse the gains we have made. We will stand as one people, united against violence, unanimous in our commitment to peace and to the rule of law. This is what we must do.   I thank you.” But he has tweeted nothing since then.

But in a separate message on the official Presidency /South Africa site, there was an image of Ramaphosa with the quote: “There is no grievance, not any political cause, that can justify the violence and destruction that we have seen in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Guateng.”

 Things are quieting down now with the security forces taking over more control, with limited looting and acts of violence. On the other hand, there may be little left to loot, in cities like South Africa’s main port of Durban, and even smaller rural towns like Richards Bay.

A correspondent in KwaZulu-Natal says that things were getting a lot better today, with the army coming in and helicopters overhead in Richards Bay.

The South African government said it would be deploying some 25,000 troops – the largest military deployment since the days of apartheid – to maintain the peace. Troops will be heading to KwaZulu-Natal and to Gauteng province – which includes Johannesburg and Soweto.

Flames take over a building during the rioting in KwaZulu-Natal Photo: EPA

“Things are feeling a lot more stable and calmer. But our biggest problem is food getting food into the towns and also to sellers because there are very few shops left standing. So that’s going to become a major issue as the days pass”.

So despite the calm, the period ahead is very uncertain – and as hunger hits, the people may go back onto the street. While the army may be able to keep the calm, one of the greatest challenges will be to reopen the supply chains so that some kind of normality can return.

“At the moment we have enough food to last us, not really any fresh food or eggs” she noted.

The after-effects of rioting Photo: EPA

Most of the main stores in her nearest town were destroyed, with one or two malls being protected by civilian groups. That one survived, but they have now sold out all their goods, and there is not telling when they may be able to restock. Customers waited for hours to gain entry to buy food, but after staying there for up to five hours, they realised their wait was pointless, as there would be nothing left to buy and went home.

“The violence is going to escalate again if they don’t manage to get food” she said.

Meanwhile, tourism in the province continues. Another correspondent, who is an American on a safari holiday in KwaZulu-Natal appears unaffected by the current unrest – though she reported that South Africans on the tour who were due to leave, had to stay and double up in the accommodation – leaving behind their rental cars to get chartered flights back to Durban the next day.

Lions in KwaZulu-Natal are unbothered

The animals seem to be completely unaffected though, with lions yawning and showing the boredom with the arrival of nearby tourists and with whatever bother is happening outside of the confines of the reserve.

But while the game reserves may remain largely untouched, even though the impact of the uprising is centred mainly in KwaZulu-Natal, it could have far-reaching effects for the rest of the country.

The uprising spread to some other parts of the country, including areas near to Johannesburg – but it is the disruption of imports from Durban that could have the largest affect. The N3 highway that connects the port city to Johannesburg was shut down on Wednesday, and some 35 lorries were burnt or severely damaged.

Durban in KwaZulu-Natal in more peaceful times

But the effect of a long time closure of that highway could affect many more areas than just Johannesburg. The disturbances could also hit neighbouring countries – particularly landlocked countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe– which may then try to find alternate ports for their supply chains.

Zuma was sent to jail for a period of at least four months for contempt of court, as he refused to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption during his nine-year presidency.

While there are many question marks over Zuma’s time in office, especially on corruption, he was a popular leader – particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. So it is perhaps surprising that current President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government appeared not to anticipate the likely reaction to Zuma being imprisoned.

Happier days for Jacob Zuma Photo: AFP

But not everyone believes that the uprising was triggered by Zuma’s imprisonment.

Thuli Madonsela

“Our country is not going through spontaneous chaos. The chaos and looting we have is not the outcome of a trigger . It’s organised by transactional leaders to intimidate our judicial system to allow impunity,” tweeted South African human rights advocate Professor Thuli Madonsela on Tuesday.

The end result is that like Haiti and Cuba, the long-term effect of these demonstrations  is unknown. But given the strength of the ruling African National Congress in South Africa, unlike the two Caribbean nations, the government may not be looking at a situation where it could be radically overhauled. That is assuming that the protests and the looting and violence do not spread, as is the fear, if the people cannot get the basic necessities  

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