No one can deny that the events of the last few weeks in KwaZulu-Natal and the Gauteng Provinces of South Africa, rate as one of the darkest weeks in the history of democratic South Africa. Some may even suggest that it is the darkest hour, ever! It is all understandable because what we witnessed on live television strained our ability to describe the mayhem, anarchy, lawlessness, destruction and criminality.

South Africans were in complete shock as it bore witness to a tsunami  of hooliganism and unbridled transgression taking place on the east coast and the north of this beloved country.

As this seemingly unyielding force swept over these regions, an observant eye would have noticed the sight of disbelief on the faces of many, aghast at the destruction, unleashed like a blaze of fire over the region.

At times it even appeared as if it was some choreographed scenes from a science-fiction film with aliens in attack-mode on mother-earth.

My view is that the irrational and horrific behaviour was just utterly bizarre and incomprehensible. It felt foreign to the South African psyche. The images and rolling videos on international television screens echoed this, capturing the mayhem, showing scores of people running to the shops and malls to loot, many finding it unimaginable and unfathomable.

I mean, why loot the National Blood Bank or the undertaker’s business? Seeing someone run off with a coffin and a mannequin demanded an explanation from the mind that was simply not there. The soul just could not make sense of it all. One may even have questioned his own sanity trying to explain the thought processes, or non-existent thought processes influencing the madness.

It was the ease with which Nelson Mandela’s South Africa devolved into decay that baffled the international community – it certainly baffled us all.


The extent of the damage, as reported by a national newspaper, was astounding as these horrific numbers of entities that were damaged, plundered and destroyed testify:

-90 Pharmacies

-1400 ATMS

-300 Banks and Post-Offices

-A medicine factory of Cipla, one of the biggest manufacturers of generic medicine in the country

-12 Mr Price-shops (Clothing)

-99 Famous Brands Shops, including Steers and Wimpy restaurants

-32 Cash-build shops

-190 Clothing shops of the Foschini group

-489 Pepkor shops, including Pep and Ackermans

-33 Masmart shops, 10 Game, 8 Builders Warehouse and 2 Makro branches.

-Many manufacturing factory and plants.

This list excludes the infrastructure damage caused to roads and power-grid networks, trucks and motorcars.

The greatest loss was the 272 lives lost to the violence during this time. Also, racial hatred reared its ugly head, bringing tensions in communities to the brink. In Phoenix, a predominantly Indian community in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, 15 people were killed during the violence directly linked to race. The incident has since been called the Phoenix Massacre, alluding to the horror of dead bodies strewn on its roads.

As a flood of questions about how and why raced through the soul of South Africa, democratic South Africa, I could not resist the images from a graveyard of memories from the 1994 Rwandan Massacre, ironically in the same year as South Africa started its journey into a New South Africa.

The mind, almost involuntary, retrieved the images from that genocide where the tribal factions of Hutus and Tutsi’s, brutally pitted against each other, accounted for the scenes of dead bodies, beheaded and hacked by sharp axes. It was horrific to the extent that one could not fathom the rationale for such deep seated racial hatred between groups within the same country.

It seems as if the same happened here in South Africa these last weeks.

Naturally, social commentators, political scientists, analysts from the law-enforcement agencies have attempted to explain what led to these heinous acts in the province. While some commentators tried to single out one major factor for the civil unrest others laid the biggest blame for the social unrest at the feet of the allies of former President Zuma who were vehement in their anger against his incarceration.

Some analysts even blamed the mayhem on the deep levels of poverty, income inequality and disparity, joblessness and hunger, mainly of the poor. Clearly the country’s currently grappling with it all, seeking for plausible reasons as to why it happened, why it was so severe and why the social unrest, in its very nature, was so brutal and so devastating. 

Personally, I had the opportunity to comment on the social unrest on RSG, a national radio station. There was inculpatory discourse, blaming the poor for the criminal and looting behaviour. In these circumstances some analysts tend to easily criminalize the poor as if social phenomenon such as social anarchy, looting, vandalism, hooliganism, vigilantism and violence is only caused by the poor.  During my interview I was clear, I trust, that deep levels of poverty, high income inequality, joblessness and hunger cannot be the cause for such chaos. These factors do exist in other provinces and one has to analyse it more broadly and deeply to understand what triggered such violent and wide-scale social anarchy.

I found myself strongly disagreeing with some analysts who suggested that it was a sudden and unexpected event.

Their case, described by social scientists as the “black-swan effect” attributes a meaning that makes these horrific events an unexpected and sudden occurrence.

Seriously though, the theoretical understanding is that no social phenomenon is unexpected and unpredictable. Social phenomena such as social unrest and anarchy follows certain patterns and is highly predictable. Within social phenomenon framework one will find predisposing factors, precipitating factors and determinants or dominant triggers that would lead to a phenomenon such as social unrest or even social revolutions. Instead it is the failure to identify these leading causes that is the biggest problem. As the President has admitted that the government has failed to identify the key developments that lead to this social mayhem.

Reflectively, the undoubtedly positive element is that while government is dealing with the failure of its departments and intelligence agencies, it is heartening that, again, Civil Society Organizations have taken the lead and quite literally taken up the broom handle to rebuild after the devastation.

Last year, during the first lockdown period when we were facing the start of hunger strikes and we were on the brink of a hunger revolution it was the Civil Society Organizations that took the lead and responded to mitigate a hunger revolution. The South African Society and especially government, must once and for all acknowledge the immense role of Civil Society Organizations to restore and rebuild this country. 

Finally, if there ever can be a finally, I posit that despite the mayhem, anarchy, lawlessness, looting, violence and destruction, we as a country will rise even stronger than before.

It may sound like a cliché and an overly optimistic call, but it is a realistic gauntlet: Together we will fight for the future of this country. We will identify the fault-lines with the necessary openness and work to restore human dignity for everyone.

This country will not be derailed by a few – a minority with selfish and own political motives. We will work hard for a better life for everyone. We are a Resilient Nation.