“If institutions are destroyed and corrupted, we all feel the pain” – James Lorimer

In this thought-provoking piece, DA Shadow Minster of Mineral Resources James Lorimer looks at the looting that has rocked South Africa over the past week, and looks at the severe consequences it has on SA. “It is the foolishness of revolutionaries everywhere that they think they can destroy the bits and pieces that they want to destroy and that everything else will go on as before. It won’t.” Lorimer also notes that looting is seen by too many as a “social faux pas” – something insurance will pay out for. But it’s not as simple as that. It’s a vicious chain that will destroy livelihoods. “People who work in sacked stores will lose their jobs. People who work in factories to make produce to put in those shops will lose their jobs. People transporting that produce to shops that no longer exist, and who have had their trucks burned, will no longer have jobs.” – Jarryd Neves

If you loot institutions, you will miss them when they’re gone

By James Lorimer*

The media and social media have been alive with pictures that convey a sense of the sheer normality of looting and destruction in South Africa.

Footage of a portly man trying to fit an oversize TV screen into the back seat of a small car, or the large ladies repacking shopping bags stuffed with stolen goods as they waited for transport away from a stripped Jabulani Mall, excite amusement rather than anger. Looting is seen by too many as a minor social faux pas, a crime without real victims. Insurance will cover it, after all. But it won’t.

Every lazy, useful, voter-mobilising notion used by the African National Congress for years has been exposed by the destruction and looting since Saturday; the notion of perpetual struggle, either class struggle or struggle against whites or Indians or bosses.

The idea that it is permissible or even admirable to steal from or destroy the establishment, be it business in the local mall or employers or institutions (they sacked the blood bank) has had its expression in what is happening. Looting is not seen as bad, at worst a bit ‘naughty’, but forgivable and understandable and permissible. The idea that ‘we’re perpetually oppressed, we should be allowed to loot’ is firmly established in the psyche of ANC and EFF members, no matter what their economic circumstances.

That’s returned and bitten the whole country. People who work in sacked stores will lose their jobs. People who work in factories to make produce to put in those shops will lose their jobs. People transporting that produce to shops that no longer exist, and who have had their trucks burned, will no longer have jobs.

Those who still have money to buy necessities will find they no longer have shops in their area because those shops have not reopened after they were sacked. They will have to travel to find shops. That travel will cost them money, so they can buy less when they find a shop. Or, irony of ironies, they will have to shop from the spazas owned by the foreigners whose businesses they also want to burn and loot.

Businesses are institutions just as much as government services are. Businesses and institutions and infrastructure depend on law and order for their existence.  Those who tear them down because they feel they are not benefiting, or who normalise opposition to them because they are ‘revolutionaries’, are facing a sharp lesson in what life is like without the institutions that have been painstakingly built and held together by the sweat and smartness of others. Life is not going to be better for them or anyone else.

Foolishness of revolutionaries

It is the foolishness of revolutionaries everywhere that they think they can destroy the bits and pieces that they want to destroy and that everything else will go on as before. It won’t.

It’s not as if the people who are looting suddenly stumbled on the idea themselves. It’s been common practice at the upper echelons of politics for as long as the ANC has been in power. It’s been mirrored and intensified by the EFF. The idea that looting is permissible or at least understandable, is given succour by academics, establishment journalists and the commentariat.

The consequences of the corrupting of institutions and their perversion for personal gain have been apparent for some time. Of course, there’s no crime intelligence to forestall the ‘democratic shopping’ at Game or the Dunlop tyre factory. How can there be when the entire purpose of the organisation has been perverted to cover up for official corruption and to spy on political enemies?

The ordinary SAPS have little capacity or willingness to do their job. Stories of corruption in the force are legion. Is it surprising with Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi having ended up in jail? Famously, he closed down specialised police units, including the drug squad, and, tellingly, was jailed for accepting bribes from drug smugglers. That set the tone. Commissioner Bheki Cele was fired after the police office-rental scandal. He reappeared as minister of police because he and the current ruling faction of the ANC share the same enemies. His duty and responsibility for the police were subordinated to the game of supporting a faction for material gain. We see the consequences playing out in front of us.

In my field of mining, the absence of policing has long been apparent. From sand mining in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, to the public strip-mining of chrome near Burgersfort, to the mining mafias trying to win contracts and benefits in Richards Bay and Prieska, all the stories are the same: the absence of any police action to stop what is obviously criminal activity.

No leadership and no accountability

The reasons they don’t act range from their being afraid of the local chiefs who are in on the crimes, to not being trained, to being bribed to look the other way. There is no leadership and no accountability. The consequences are playing out in bodies lying on the side of Durban roads this week.

The looting of institutions has consequences.

The national Department of Health has been packed with political appointees and cronies, and demonstrated its own institutional failure when the time came to organise vaccines to save lives and allow relieving the economy of Covid lockdowns.

The situation was grim in Gauteng Health. Millions of Rands were looted from PPE budgets in the province when the pandemic struck. By the time the third wave of Covid arrived there was no more budget to staff hospitals, provide beds or supply oxygen. Some R600 million in Covid relief funds may have been misappropriated in the City of Johannesburg alone. How many people have died because they were not vaccinated, or because there was insufficient medical treatment? Tragic irony demonstrates the point, with the death from Covid-19 of Johannesburg mayor and notorious corruption-accused Geoff Makhubo last week. Consequences.

Institutions matter. If they are destroyed or corrupted for personal or political gain, all of us will feel the pain. It may not be so noticeable at first because the collapses have been slow, but when educational or medical services or policing can no longer do what they are supposed to do, and when there’s no blood transfusion service and when the local store is no longer there, it will make life worse.

The shoddy thinking that says we can dispense with them, and indeed need to, to ‘transform’ South Africa will lead to disaster, and must be abandoned and derided for the lie that it is. We will miss our institutions when we don’t have them. South Africa is already suffering from their absence.

  • The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
  • If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend
  • James Lorimer, a former journalist, has been a Member of Parliament since 2009 and is the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Mineral Resources. He sits on the Council of the IRR.

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