Over the last few days, we have witnessed some of the ugliest scenes in our country because of the spate of rampant looting and destruction of property. Marauding masses went on the rampage, looting shops and stores. Fiery scenes of trucks, motor vehicles, shopping malls in even refinery plants engulfed in flames in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and some parts of Gauteng continue to haunt us. Such was the violence, the deadliest in democratic South Africa, that more than 70 people have lost their lives.
The University of Johannesburg (UJ) is gravely concerned at the level of violence and looting and wishes to add its voice to other concerned South Africans in condemning these acts with the strongest terms possible. In difficult times like this, we are left wondering as to what has become of our great nation and how we have degenerated to such aggressive and outright selfish behaviour. The total disregard of the rule of law was particularly distressing, especially as it happened during the month when South Africans embrace and celebrate former President Nelson Mandela’s legacy and his values of service, sacrifice, compassion, and a belief in our collective humanity.
In the end, the looting and destruction of property amount to self-sabotage. While many businesses have started counting their losses, the scale and gravity of the violence will hit home when people run out of jobs and basic food commodities become scarce. Already, there are reports of people running out of medication in the Greater Durban area and parts of Johannesburg, with essentials such as diapers, bread, cereal, milk and dairy products hard to come by. Our economy, still in a state of fragility and reeling from the COVID-19 lockdowns, will also take a further battering when more investors shun South Africa.
Also worrying is that most of the rioters, if not all, were not wearing masks. They were huddled up in groups, yelling, and going into people’s faces, all of which put everyone at serious risk. We are still in the third wave of the pandemic, and we need to think of everyone that could be affected by our own decision.
Amidst all the mayhem, it was heartening to see leaders of organisations, including taxi operators, community policing associations and ordinary citizens, taking it upon themselves to protect and defend public and private property. Such acts of bravery by ordinary people reclaiming their neighbourhoods and livelihoods should be extolled, especially as South Africa is widely regarded as a symbol of democracy and has given hope to many people for many on the African continent.
UJ calls for calm and restraint, and for a return to law, order and peace. The University sympathises with all the businesspeople who have suffered losses. We also express our condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones.