Responsible community response to criminality must be enhanced, not stifled – Sakeliga

As looting and rioting swarmed the streets of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, violent protesters destroyed countless businesses. According to Bloomberg, retailers have lost a total of R5bn – a figure that is bound to increase as the damage is totalled up. Perhaps more disheartening for South African’s was the silence of our government. As livelihoods were destroyed, the under-equipped South African Police Service stood by while looters helped themselves to stolen property. The army, eventually, was deployed. But by then, it was already too late. In fact, many regular citizens stood up for themselves, defending what’s theirs and protecting the wider community. Reports of taxi drivers coming together to stop rioting and defend shopping malls have been praised, while in KZN myriad communities banded together to protect their towns. Below, Sakeliga’s CEO Piet le Roux writes that the curfew (put in place as part of the Covid-19 lockdown measures)  should “be rejected in favour of maximum flexibility for communities to respond to their unique risks and circumstances.” The non-profit organisation has called for state security to support community efforts against looting and to “work constructively with community safety forums and local business chambers in an effort to restore stability.” – Jarryd Neves

By Piet le Roux*

The saving grace during the disastrous looting that has ensued in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng over the last week, has been the measures taken by community members in protecting their businesses and property.

Piet le Roux

Business organisation Sakeliga therefore notes with concern the call by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) for a 24-hour curfew in affected KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng looting hotspots. BUSA is calling on the government to exercise extraordinary powers and confine people to their homes for as long as possible, presumably in the hope that a curfew will keep criminal elements away from the streets and allow state security services to secure supply routes. It argues that this is the only way to get food and other basic supplies safely to communities.

However, such a curfew has enormous drawbacks and risks and can greatly destabilise the situation.

“Communities have shown that they need to be mobile, organised, and flexible in the face of these imminent security threats and highly uncertain situation. Supply chains, moreover, are not simple matters, but complex intricate networks that require flexibility and the freedom to move around and respond to the events as they unfold,” says Piet le Roux, CEO of Sakeliga.

Sakeliga opposes curfews and lockdowns, and re-asserts that the present lockdown curfew is already restrictive and counterproductive as is, and should be converted to a voluntary recommendation.

“A curfew inevitably raises the problem of who or what is deemed an essential service during such a time. Such a determination can however not be made by central planners; the economy is an integrated affair, and all members of the production network contribute in important and unrecognised ways to restoring order and supplies.”

Furthermore, a 24-hour curfew should be rejected in favour of maximum flexibility for communities to respond to their unique risks and circumstances.

“State security services have evidently been reliant on community assistance in confronting pressing threats. Confining community members to their homes is likely to make not only communities, but also state security services outnumbered by looters, more vulnerable and impotent. Communities of volunteers that have responded effectively so far therefore cannot tolerate being forced into their homes, risking further attacks and slowing down the recovery and clean-up efforts.”

Sakeliga welcomes all lawful and responsible interventions by members of the public, private security firms, community safety forums, and businesses in protecting life and securing assets from criminal destruction.

“It stands to be recognised across the board that active community participation in their public spaces, to the end of reclaiming them and forming networks of security and economic cooperation across different communities, is what will secure supply chains and business interests now and in the future. In contrast, centralised government intervention and measures such as curfews does more harm than good.”

Sakeliga calls for state security capacity to be deployed to support existing community efforts against looting and criminality, and to work constructively with community safety forums and local business chambers in an effort to restore stability.

  • Piet le Roux is the CEO of Sakeliga.

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