Johannesburg, South Africa – Shelves were broken, decorations ripped off walls and empty boxes that used to carry colorful party supplies in the trash from Thandi Johnson’s store. The devastated shop owner searches through the rubbish of her popular holiday rental shop in Diepkloof, Soweto, for anything she can save.
There is nothing.
“On Monday, I had the day off, so my husband and I did our routine morning walk,” Johnson, 41, recalled.
“One of my staff members talked about the growing concern in the Diepkloof area, so I advised them to close the store and return home for security reasons.”
Shortly afterwards, Johnson received another phone call, one he feared: the events of TWJ, who called herself, her husband Wayne, and their son Johnson, had been looted and destroyed amid the deadly unrest that engulfed parts. of South Africa over the past week.
“I’m heartbroken,” Johnson said. “The Diepkloof community has hurt me a lot. We have spent 12 years building this business. “
‘I have no words’
Shots and petrol bombs reverberated in Kwa-Zulu Natal province after the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma in the early hours of July 8.
In the days that followed, sporadic protests turned into rampant looting, which became more violent and destructive in two of South Africa’s largest economic centers: Durban and Johannesburg.
Shops were set on fire, shops were looted and members of the community clashed with police, in South Africa’s worst mass violence since the end of the white minority government in 1994.
The unrest caused more than 200 deaths, including children, the elderly and police officers, and a total of more than 2,500 people arrested.
In a statement Friday night, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the destruction of property and infrastructure will cost the country billions of rand.
Chaos and destruction were relentless and unselective, from large multinational corporations to troubled small businesses. The stark contrast, however, according to Steve Ledwaba, a businessman in Alexandria, Johannesburg, whose store was vandalized and looted in the early hours of Friday morning, is that community convenience stores may have more difficulty to recover from the butchery.
“I have no words,” the 54-year-old said. “I lost everything. I served this community, I know everyone, I help them every day ”.
Ledwaba had started selling a lot of perishable products like bread and milk to the community from the back door of his two-bedroom house in 2005, before opening his own store.
“I get up every day at 3 in the morning to make fresh vetkoeks [fried dough bread] for those taking the train to work at 4 p.m. I didn’t care if R1 was missing someone who needed bread or food or even a cold drink. Now they have destroyed me. “
“Planned and coordinated”
The government has deployed the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) to the areas hardest hit by the riots, while Ramaphosa suggested on Friday that the violence was “planned and coordinated” and said the government would not allow it to take off. “anarchy and chaos.” in South Africa.
“We will not allow anarchy and chaos to develop only in our country,” Ramaphosa told reporters during a visit to Ethikwini municipality.
While questions persist about the root causes of violence and riots, some believe they would be forced to happen.
“Most of the people who plunder are poor, unemployed and tired of inequalities,” said Vuyo Zungula, opposition MP and chairman of the African Transformation Movement, who described the events as culmination of South Africa’s unaddressed economic disparities. serious indignity facing most of its historically disadvantaged black population.
“There is a man who died in Tembisa while he had a bar of bread and milk.”
Zungula said he believed civil unrest of this nature and magnitude will continue for years to come, unless significant economic reforms are introduced to benefit those who have long been marginalized.
In 2017, the Department of Agriculture for Rural Development and Spatial Reform released the Land Audit Report, a 36-page document that highlights racialized economic disparity and land ownership in South Africa. According to the report, blacks, who make up the majority of the population, own only 4 percent of the land and whites, who make up only 12 percent of the population, own 72 percent of the land.
In 2019, South Africa was declared the most unequal country in the world by the World Bank. The unemployment rate stands at an impressive high of 32.6 percent
“This is not just hunger; they are years of financial and psychological oppression of the poor. It is the result of suffering and exclusion, “said Mabutho Mthimkhulu, a community activist and preacher in a local Soweto Presbyterian chapter.” We need to rebuild the country, but things cannot return to their form. “
“We were just beginning to recover”
The unrest came at a time when many companies were struggling to get back on their feet after strict coronavirus blockages led to the closure of restaurants, construction companies and other industries as the pandemic affected finances. of the country. South Africa’s economy shrank by 7 per cent last year, compared with growth of 0.2 per cent the previous year.
Zandi Montumo, 49, had just reopened her salon at Jabulani Mall, Soweto, after closing its doors in December, when she attacked her shop.
“We were just starting to recover, so I’m very sad,” he said.
“I’m actually one of the lucky ones; only the windows were vandalized and some appliances were taken away, but the damage can be recovered. “
Montumo, however, said that the poor who went to establishments and took what has been deprived of them was a little understandable.
“I’ve been there,” he said. “I know the feeling of having nothing to feed your children. I am sad for small businesses, but the government is to blame for failing our people living in poverty.
Johnson also chooses to focus on a path to follow and rebuild not only his store, but also his relationships with the community. “This almost destroyed the care I had for the Diepkloof community, but because I received so much love and support from people everywhere, it made it easier for me to forgive,” he said.
“The widespread support forced me to become human again. Love conquers everything. I will forever love the support and friendships that emerged from the crisis. I can forgive the looters, although I will not forget how I felt, ”Johnson added.
“We hope we have all learned a lesson from this crisis.”