We have a crisis in our land. Reports of an orchestrated insurrection seem increasingly credible.  The political campaign ignited an explosion of destruction, and according to many analysts, it exploited and was partly fuelled by the misery and hopelessness of dire poverty and high unemployment levels that afflict a high percentage of people in our country (with youth unemployment being over 50%).

It should not take much imagination to understand how desperation – made worse in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic – can make people do things they might not do in other circumstances. Much that was looted was food. However, a significant number of looters took advantage of the situation to help themselves to all kinds of goods, including appliances such as fridges and microwave ovens, loading their loot into bakkies (small trucks) and cars, including some into luxury cars. There was also significant looting of liquor stores and warehouses, with some people taking multiple crates of booze in their vehicles.

Screen grab from anonymous video circulating on social media of a Pinetown shopping mall in KwaZulu-Natal that was set alight after being looted

Added to the widespread looting of shops, warehouses and even pharmacies and medical facilities such as blood banks, was deliberate arson. It is thought that the aim of the political campaign was to bring the economy and thereafter the government to its knees. First, transport trucks were torched and major freeways closed, and thereafter shopping malls and factories were among facilities that were deliberately set alight, with some completely destroyed and others significantly damaged. The extent of the damage is unimaginable.

Screen grab from anonymous video circulating on social media showing the iconic clock tower of the Pietermaritzburg city hall visible through the smoke from burning buildings after shops in the centre of town have been ransacked

And now we, ordinary citizens of all stripes, sit watching ongoing attempts to restore order with the army being mobilised to help protect key installations and now also to secure infrastructure and the food supply chain and to back-up the police while they are deterring and arresting looters.

Everybody in the worst affected provinces (so far) of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are now faced with food shortages as we wonder how and when supply chains from farm or factory to table can be restored. Panic about these shortages is rising and shops that are able to open attract long queues of customers and are limiting the number of items that each customer may buy. The Covid-19 vaccination programmes in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng have been interrupted, and hospitals and the delivery of oxygen to hospitals is under pressure. There have been reports of some incidents of ambulances and medical staff being threatened. Almost incredibly, looting and destruction remain ongoing in many areas and as I write it is not yet safe to put delivery trucks back on the roads and one of the largest of the national oil refineries has been closed for security reasons.

Ordinary residents and citizens are forming groups to defend their residential areas, local shops and petrol stations. Unlikely alliances are forming, such as between residents and taxi associations, with many working in collaboration with police and private security firms, while others are approaching the dangerous terrain of vigilantism.

It can feel apocalyptic as we sense that we are on the brink of an irretrievable collapse, but as political, business and other leaders grapple with the immensity of the situation, we grasp the hope revealed through burgeoning cooperation and volunteerism. Ordinary citizens are coming together, which brings a sense that it may be possible for some kind of renewal to emerge from the ashes of destruction.


Duncan, Jane. 2021. South Africa’s tipping point: How the intelligence community failed the country Daily Maverick. 14 July. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-07-14-south-africas-tipping-point-how-the-intelligence-community-failed-the-country/;

Haffajee, Ferial. 2021. Under investigation: Twelve masterminds planned and executed insurrection on social media, then lost control after looting spree. Daily Maverick, 14 July. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-07-14-under-investigation-twelve-masterminds-planned-and-executed-insurrection-on-social-media-then-lost-control-after-looting-spree/;

IMF Country Focus. 2020. Six Charts Explain South Africa’s Inequality. 30 January. https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/01/29/na012820six-charts-on-south-africas-persistent-and-multi-faceted-inequality;

Lebakeng, Tshabalira. 2021. Fighting to stay alive in a broken country: No jobs, no food breed contempt for the law. 14 July. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-07-14-fighting-to-stay-alive-in-a-broken-country-no-jobs-no-food-breed-contempt-for-the-law/;

Venter, Zelda. 2021. Hospitals feeling strain of unrest over and above Covid-19 pandemic. Pretoria News. 15 July. https://www.msn.com/en-za/news/other/hospitals-feeling-strain-of-unrest-over-and-above-covid-19-pandemic/ar-AAMbcLH

And also informed by watching numerous news reports and discussions on television news channels such as Newzroom Afrika. Thanks to the courageous journalists reporting live, often under extremely stressful and dangerous circumstances.

Posted by Carol