From the editors desk
The editors of City Press, News24 and The Witness pen an urgent letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa to reaffirm the supremacy of the law in all the towns and cities of South Africa.
Dear President Ramaphosa,
It has been a week since your predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was jailed for his contempt of the highest court in the land. In the days following Zuma’s incarceration, sporadic outbreaks of violence started in KwaZulu-Natal, notably with trucks being burned along the N3 highway.
Since those first sporadic outbreaks of violence, which the authorities couldn’t quell, South Africa finds itself at the mercy of armed gangs of looters who are stealing our food, jobs and futures in real-time.
As we write this letter, our journalists in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are being threatened by the looting mobs to have their faces “cut open” for reporting on this complete breakdown of law in order in our country.
Residents of the two provinces, many of them young children, are forced to act as security guards in protection of their businesses and homes while very few of the deployed 2 500 soldiers are seen actively quelling the unabated looting. At least two children, aged 14 and 15, have been shot dead in the riots.
The mayor of eThekwini estimates that the economy of Durban will lose R20 billion if the violence is not stopped immediately. This destruction has already catapulted a new generation into poverty.
Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, as well as other parts of the country, will see severe petrol and food shortages in a matter of days. This will likely lead to another round of looting and panic buying, while trucking companies and food producers refuse to put their employees’ lives and assets at risk.
It is now abundantly clear that this violence, that your government cannot seem to stop, was instigated by intelligence officials and other politicians or civil servants loyal to Zuma. Your citizens and the world are looking at you with bated breath: when will you get on top of the situation and regain control of large parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng?
South Africans in other provinces are anxiously waiting for the looting and destruction to cross their borders.
Human rights lawyers such as Vusi Pikoli, Dumisa Ntsebeza and Howard Varney are pleading for you to announce a state of emergency to reclaim authority as head of state and commander in chief.
These are unprecedented times. What they are pleading for are in fact the very measures you should have announced on Monday when you appeared defeated at a time when the people were crying out for strong and resolute leadership.
Your security cluster ministers insist that the situation is not dire enough to warrant a state of emergency. This after more than 70 lives have been lost and billions of rands of property devastated and looted. This after critical infrastructure has been deliberately targeted.
A state of emergency may be an extreme response at this stage and would entail a severe encroachment into human rights but it would be a more comprehensive and much firmer response.
With all due respect, Mr President, your words are no longer enough. No fancy speech or the “long game” you are renowned for will restore peace and stability while Zuma’s children, sycophants, spies and loyalists are allowed to continue fanning the flames of violence on social media and mobilising desperate people to destroy our country.
No promises by the police or intelligence agency or the National Prosecuting Authority that the culprits “will” be arrested are enough to stop the violence, the killings and resume the delivery of food to the people of South Africa.
This is the greatest test of your presidency and so far you have failed spectacularly to honour the oath you took to protect the law-abiding citizens of this country.
We implore you to immediately deploy enough and visible security resources to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to restore peace and stability before it’s too late. We implore you to instruct your security cluster to immediately arrest those fanning the flames of violence and plotting to make this country ungovernable and your government unstable.
We implore you to allow community and religious leaders to join the likes of business organisations in standing up for the protection of their people and businesses against the violence of a few.
The country’s two most populous provinces – which are South Africa’s most important economic hubs – lie in ruins. No city or small town has been unaffected. The shaky economy, already pummelled by recession and the Covid-19 pandemic – is beyond the brink.
There is no quick come back here. It means starvation, joblessness and the end of life as any of us knew it. That’s not melodramatic. It’s a fact. Hope that government will take control has hightailed it out of this country.
Investors won’t rebuild knowing how little regard government gave them. If this economy ever starts to recover, it will be through the sheer guts and determination of good citizens who want to rebuild. No one thinks government will do anything sustainable to repair this. We know government is broke – national, provincial and municipal coffers looted. Where will the money come from?
Vaccination sites are closed. People waiting for their second jabs fear they’ll never get them. Those who need medicine can’t access clinics or doctors, even the gravely ill. Informal traders, the people who eke out a living on the margins, have been as hard hit as the megastores. Food queues snake for kilometres from the entrances of malls that have not been trashed. Already. What’s the plan to get food to the consumers?
People are scared, hiding in their homes, too afraid to venture out. The sounds of gunshots and explosions fill the air, which is choked with smoke for much of the time. Dystopian scenes play out around every corner. The psyche of the country is profoundly disturbed. Where was the hand of comfort as the country burned and people’s livelihoods were destroyed? Was it too discomforting for your government to extend it?
Where was the regular communication with the media? When questions are being asked of the police and other authorities, by a community in crisis, a stony silence is a slap in the face.
It’s evident that people are no longer listening to you when you speak. You’ve lost the respect of many who thought you could lead our country to a better place. The community has again – after the ravages of Covid-19 – dug deep to show resilience and bravery. Where is yours and that of your Cabinet?
Mr President, when South Africa emerges from catastrophe this will be a very different country. Many of our factories, warehouses and malls will be burned out shells. So will much of our critical infrastructure which we will need to be rebuild. But the biggest scars will be in our hearts, souls and psyches.
This nation has suffered a lot of trauma in its young life but none has been as brutal as what we have experienced in the last week. We will be needing you to lead what is set to be a hard and prolonged period of healing. We must say, however, that your efforts and record in managing this gravest of crises gives us very little faith that you will be up to that task.
You don’t have much time to reaffirm the supremacy of the law in all the towns and cities of South Africa, but firm, urgent action can still save this country from disappearing into the abyss.
Mondli Makhanya, editor-in-chief: City Press
Adriaan Basson, editor-in-chief: News24
Stephanie Saville, editor: The Witness