#UnrestSA: Poor government leadership contributed to mass looting - SAHRC hears

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  • A lack of proper political leadership fuelled the recent unrest.
  • The SA Human Rights Commission has heard that not only did people loot shops, but leaders continued stealing government funds.
  • The commission expressed concern about possible job losses caused by the unrest.

The recent mayhem that left many dead and malls and shops looted, causing potential job losses, should be blamed on the lack of leadership in the country.

Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang addressed a dialogue launched by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) following the unrest in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The anarchy that began two weeks ago has claimed more than 300 lives.

Some lives were also lost in Phoenix, Durban.

Hatang asked if the country had returned to the dark days of apartheid.

"We need to uproot the woundedness to heal the wounds. Failure of leadership, legitimacy of leadership was brought into question," Hatang said.

Hatang said he was worried about the ugly scenes of minors participating in the looting.

"What do you [do], sitting in Phoenix, when people try to run your door down? Because you have a gun, do you sit and wait? … because you are black, you can't walk the streets of Phoenix or Durban without producing documents to show you belong [in] the area? Are we back in the days of apartheid?" he asked.

"What do you do when you live close to the mall that you can't access because you are declared a looter, and you are black?" Hatang added.

Hatang applauded people who prevented some malls, including Maponya Mall in Soweto, from being looted.

"They rose to the challenge and showed leadership when big leadership was nowhere to be found. Large parts of Johannesburg were not involved in the looting. Two out of nine provinces participated, not the entire country.

"Does South Africa belong to those who looted, including those who loot state coffers and whose hands are not visible? Who does the rule of law apply to? Is it attacking the poor daily and [ignoring] those who loot daily?" Hatang asked.

READ | #UnrestSA: Ahead of Mandela Day, SAHRC urges South Africans to follow Madiba's example

SAHRC chairperson advocate Bongani Majola said the unrest had threatened the democratic foundation of the country.

Majola said the looting and deaths took place at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and while many municipalities were struggling.

"In its wake, they left a myriad of challenges affecting millions of people. They include loss of life. They left hunger and contributed to unemployment and poverty. People are worried that there are no amenities in many places. Transportation of goods looted and burnt down," Majola said.

The commission said it was worried about the job security of both the employed and self-employed and brewing racial tensions in parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

"Race discrimination complaints have been the highest the commission has received over the five years, especially around Phoenix. They demonstrated that much needs to be done urgently.

"We must reflect and rebuild for the benefit of poor communities... Ours is not to look back and point fingers at who is to blame. Ours is to think long and hard about the future of our people, their human rights and what will make our democracy stronger.

"If we don't know what went wrong, we would not know what to fix going forward. Ours is to promote human rights and a culture of human rights in South Africa," Majola said.

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