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With over 300 people dead, the looting and violent protesting that gripped the Gauteng and KZN provinces are among the most deadly the country has ever seen. As malls were set ablaze, shops were destroyed and gutted, as looters ransacked businesses, both big and small. As all this occurred, the police and government sat to one side, watching the chaos unfold. It’s ordinary citizens who stood up against the violence, guarding the suburbs and/or businesses from opportunistic criminals. While valiant and admirable, it’s also remarkably sad – why should citizens have to stand up and protect themselves? As William Saunderson-Meyer writes, “when confronted, the government rolled over and played dead. In several KZN towns, the SAPS barricaded themselves into their stations and had to be protected, as well as resupplied with ammunition, by the citizens they were supposed to be protecting.” What’s more, this all happened in the middle of a proposed law from government, which would effectively ban firearm ownership for self-defence. “It is madness or a calculated invitation to conflagration, to reduce the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.” This story was first published on PoliticsWeb. – Jarryd Neves
Lesson one from the Zuma riots: You’re on your own, baby!
By William Saunderson-Meyer*
The unrest has been like a flash flood scouring a mountain. It has opened deep crevasses in some places and at others uncovered the occasional granite outcrop.
It’s a storm that has irretrievably changed the contour of the South African landscape but already we pretend that things can be as they were before. They can’t and they won’t.
What has happened will substantially affect everyone’s future, including those that were completely bypassed by the looting, burning and killing. I’m thinking particularly of those living in places like the Western Cape who seem smugly to dismiss the upheavals as a storm in a tribal calabash — just those pesky Zulus who every couple of decades need to let off steam in a violent outburst.
It would be foolish to think that the many criminals and wannabe revolutionaries spread throughout the country haven’t learnt tactical lessons from what happened in the past fortnight. The Economic Freedom Fighters, which makes no secret of its revolutionary aspirations or its willingness to attack physically its opponents and to scapegoat minorities, is one such group. It will feel disappointed at not being able to seize any advantage from the unrest and will vow to do better next time.
But the main lesson that we all need to take is one of life and death. These events are a stark reminder that in terms of the physical safety of you and your loved ones, as well as the preservation of your property and tools to earn a living, you are entirely on your own.
The perpetually avuncular President Cyril Ramaphosa — a Financial Mail columnist this week describes him as having “a good heart” — has shown with his government’s orders to the SA Police Service to keep a low profile and avoid casualties, that all citizens are not equal. There is an African National Congress ranking to the value of life that, not coincidentally, follows the reality of its empowerment policies. In decreasing order of innate human value are ANC cadres; ANC supporters; black Africans; Indians, coloureds and whites.
The unrest highlights that South Africa now meets one of the most important criteria of a failed state: an inability or refusal by the state to carry out its primary function of protecting its citizens. When confronted, the government rolled over and played dead. In several KZN towns, the SAPS barricaded themselves into their stations and had to be protected, as well as resupplied with ammunition, by the citizens they were supposed to be protecting.
At no stage did the SAPS take the most basic actions against the looters, a security expert pointed out to me. The two most viable weapons for mob control are water cannon and tear gas. Rubber bullets are way down the list.
“If you want to clear out an enclosed area like a shop or mall, a single canister of tear gas is all it takes. Disregarding water cannon for the moment, in all the hundreds of shots on television, did you see even one tear gas canister thrown?”
The other unlikely “protectors of democracy” were the taxi mafia. After decades of using assassination and arson to eliminate competitors and to wring concessions from the government, the taxi bosses were momentarily cast as heroes when they intervened, out of self-interest, to prevent looting during the later stages of the unrest.
It was a disquieting reflection of where lies the real balance of power and credibility of intent in South Africa. One could watch on television how three taxis containing half a dozen men were easily able to interdict a rampaging mob from attacking a shopping mall, while a much larger force of nominally better armed and trained SAPS officers had about much deterrent effect as a row of display mannequins in a shop window.
The real heroes, though, were a patchily armed citizenry. They saved not only the bacon of the communities they were protecting but, contrary to the lurid warnings of many — Britain’s Daily Telegraph wrote of Howick’s “heavily armed gangs of white vigilantes”, whereas the photograph accompanying the report shows a group of men of indeterminate ethnic origin carrying paintball guns — the militias appear to have been generally well disciplined and restrained.
The assistance of armed citizens was gratefully accepted by a thinly stretched SAPS, when and where it did deploy. At the very same spot in Howick where the Daily Telegraph photographed the scary “white vigilantes”, I passed a group of scruffy, tired-looking men of all races, operating a roadblock under the command of two SAPS officers and a municipal traffic cop.
Unpalatable though it may be to an anti-gun lobby that has broad media support (as well as generous funding from philanthropists residing in safe Western countries), it would be insanity for the government to proceed with its stated intention to disarm South Africans. Bizarrely, given that it is his own administration that is introducing the Firearms Control Amendment Bill, Ramaphosa has been quoted as speculating that the plan to end the licensing of guns for “self-defence” might well prove to be unconstitutional.
In a country where there are 3m licensed firearms and, by official estimates, almost as many unlicensed ones, it is madness or a calculated invitation to conflagration, to reduce the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. A more rational solution for a government facing violent insurrection is to constrain firearm ownership within some kind of state security structure.
South Africa’s previous system of Commandos — a volunteer part-time force that was part of the army but often deployed under the authority of the police — was enormously successful in maintaining security, especially in rural areas and at key points. Despite the political stigma to the ANC of the Commandos being a Boer innovation dating back more than a century — ANC antipathies could perhaps be allayed by calling them the Comrados? — the system has much to commend it.
It’s a low-cost way of bolstering a SA National Defence Force and SAPS, both of which are woefully understaffed. And because of being geographically dispersed, the Commandos could deploy in a fraction of the time that it takes the army to mobilise.
It’s also an alternative to race-based vigilantism. Legal firearm ownership is not, contrary to popular belief, the sole preserve of whites. In absolute numbers, it is spread pretty evenly through all the population groups.
Area-based Commandos, pulling all races into a disciplined SAPS-led force, would make far less likely the allegedly racial confrontation between African looters and Indian homeowners that last week left 20 dead in the Phoenix community outside Durban. On the other hand, if communities like Phoenix are disarmed as is intended, it will only mean that the next conflict between the defenders and invaders will be decided by who has the most potent illegally acquired firepower.
The unacknowledged motivation behind the disbanding of the Commandos in 2003 — supposedly to be replaced by “specialised police units” that never materialised — and now against licensed gun owners, is that the ANC fears a white “counter-revolution”. It’s an understandable but nevertheless illusory fear.
Since 1994, the most potent efforts at “rebellion” from the white right have been a hare-brained fantasy in the early 2000s involving Boeremag plans to shell Cape Town from a submarine, as well as lining the national road to Zimbabwe with food parcels to encourage blacks to leave. In contrast, last week’s “insurrection”, one of the most destructive and deadly single eruptions in our history, was triggered by disenchanted ANC supporters, including 12 senior party members identified by the ANC national executive as the ringleaders.
To find the biggest threat to the South African state, do the arithmetic.
The death toll in the Boeremag rebellion was zero and the ringleaders, convicted of treason, will spend up to 30 years in jail. The death toll in the ANC insurrection is 258 in KZN and 79 in Gauteng, and we’re still counting.
As to the likelihood of swingeing prison sentences for the most recent traitors? Probably zero.
- Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye
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Comment from Stephen Price:
Please could you do me a favour and pass this little missive on to the Professor of Smug Saunderson-Meyer whose words of wisdom we have to endure to find out what is happening in this mess up of a country.
I know you are dyed in the wool Natalian with the pioneering spirit and have had long associations with bling-infested Natal and the centre of dumb conspicuous-consumption infested Gauteng and I assume Saundersen-Meyer is some where to the North and probably already has made caste iron offshore arrangements.
I also know that we should not be offended by open speech and robust comment so I presume neither are you or he.
However if you want to talk about smug try looking north if you have lived in the Cape for most of your life.
Yes I have connections to Gauteng. My wife is from there. My son (and his young family) is one of the many young people from Cape Town who have to live in Gauteng fairly close to the action in Joburg. My other son was a one time clerk at the Constitutional Court very close to the Gauteng action. With his Canadian wife whom he met at Oxford (an international lawyer) he returned to his alma mater to try to teach law rather than taking the gap to Canada or the UK. They were manhandled by invading EFF thugs (my son going to the rescue of a visitor research colleague from Oxford) while UCT security like the police in Gauteng stood idly by. The law faculty was sabotaged everyday by faeces throwing agents provocateurs. My Canadian daughter-in-law confronted the security in the midst of the melee but could not take it further for fear of being branded a racist. We fly up and down to our family.
My wife has cousins in Howick and Pietermaritzburg. My best friend’s son in law was doing Neighbourhood Watch duty between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. My best friend, by the way, was stabbed 7 times in broad daylight while he tried to walk through Claremont main Rd to the doctor. The police have been absolutely useless in our neighbour hood for years and we also have neighbourhood watches which the DA works tirelessly to connect with the functioning elements of the police.
In the Cape we also possess eyes and can watch TV.
Perhaps you should open your eyes about what happens in the Smug Cape.
Our rail system to the townships has long been trashed and hundreds of buses burnt out. Have you noticed by any chance?
I had rocks thrown through my front windows by one of the deranged homeless living amongst us because the High Court in its wisdom says they can’t be touched.
I haven’t had rocks thrown at me driving past the airport and Khayelitsha yet but I know of a several who have. Some lucky with stuff bouncing off the windscreen, others not so lucky.
I did happen to hit debris deliberately thrown on the freeway as we drove past the airport turnoff. It is well known that the metro police pick up bakkies full of this in the mornings deliberately thrown to stop cars so people can be robbed. My wife and I were extremely lucky I was savvy enough to drive right over it so as not to shred my tyres so I just kept driving because stopping might have been fatal in broad daylight. 6000 rands worth of damage to the underside of the car though. On Beach Rd Sea Point I was mugged of my phone in broad daylight while distractedly talking to some one so we are fully aware of petty crime.
We also have potholes which a valiant city council tries to fix often successfully believe it or not.
Small stuff I agree compared to our coloured brethren experience every day with gangster shoot outs in the streets but it was corrupt policeman in Gauteng who responsible for all the firearms on the flats. And yes the sister of a friend spent many weeks in hospital after she and her husband was brutally shot up in a high jack in Gauteng and a my wife’s best friend going to the funeral in the Eastern Cape was badly beaten up with her sisters by thugs who entered her room. So we also understand post traumatic distress syndrome. Hijacks even happen near me as we hear from our neighbourhood watch WhatsApp every morning. We understand from our domestic and gardeners what they experience trying to come to work in the taxi wars. We support them as best we can, though lockdowns, their families, the coloured workers with fantastic little businesses training their artisans themselves who work in our houses. I hate the whitemen who put 50% markup on these peoples’ fantastic self-made skills. Some of these go to artisans have become good friends. You can’t get a good white artisan though there are a few like the UCT BA (whose mother was a patient of my wife’s) who now runs very successful plumbing business. Really great to speak to an educated artisan.
The DA (which when I last noticed was lead by politician who is a Natalian) tries to deal with the deluge of people arriving from the failed Eastern Cape. The city spends half its budget in trying to do so. The leadership isn’t spectacular but it has assiduously tried to be practical, gone the legal route and through it’s doggedness has had some success. Tries to sort out the deluge of humanity who arrived in Hout Bay. We can drive past the aftermaths of informal settlements fires right in our midst us so we in the Cape actually also know a thing or two about incendiary destruction. We have the chief propagandist for the forces of evil living in the Silo hotel flats. Ramaphosa’s mansion is on the side of Lion’s head. For years I walked past Mandela’s house in Bishops court with my dog. I even met him power walking with his wife in the street once, no security guards as far as I could see. It seems everyone loves the Cape. Not surprising, my Canadian in laws out here a month with 1 Pfizer shot under there belts and ignoring the SMUG (really smug) displeasure of their Ontario parish in visiting the wild south of “Effrica” or so ago to witness the birth of their first grandchild thought it was the most beautiful place they had ever seen. Their take on the Cape (as he is a Canadian Anglican priest in Toronto who does missions in to central America) is interesting. When we drove past the edges of shackland on the Flats (with all its numerous DSTV aerials) he said straight off “Don’t worry Steve, we have seen FAR FAR WORSE in Mexico. This really could be a lot worse”. I can half believe him after going through the Favelas in Rio on the way up the funicular to the Corcovado statue.
Have you read Zille’s book? Yes, she made terrible mistakes with Maimane, Mazibuko (bright young things from Gauteng and Natal) as well as Ramphele (Biko’s ex partner – one of the many who is a Pikkety fan of Marxism rewarded with 50 million golden handshake by Goldfields who now wrings her hands living amongst white “privilege” in Camps Bay).
Do you not realise how active ANC/Spooks have been active in the Western Cape? Zille was downed by a well ordered ANC botnet operation turning her own party against her as well as a helluva lot of journalists too DUMB to see what was happening. More likely too scared to say what was happening just like all those Gauteng and Natalian business moguls.
Of course we don’t think it is just the Zulus. IT’S THE ANC STUPID!. We have been trying to tell you up north that BRIBING RAMAPHOSA to make him “one of the board room royalty” whom the good people of Gauteng. Worship every day was quite probably a waste of time unless Biden (or who ever in the West still cares a damn about SA especially the governments on the other side of Zuma’s bribes) does something about us in a vaguely geopolitical way over China. The Suez canal was blocked for a week by a massive container ship (the norm of container ships in the rest of the world I understand for a week..
Ja, I realise Ramaphosa, the misunderstood frogman of the Miner’s union, one of the many ex union career politicians like Manuel and de Lille, is our only hope. If Moeletsi is right however, the pigmented of the land are just ITCHING for a full blown revolution – lets’ hope the advance guard in Natal and Gauteng are having just a tinge of hangover the morning after.
And for God’s sake do you think all those glass business castles within a stones throw of Alexandra are a good idea? Take the the ice blue Discover castle (run by the man rumoured to have a 50 million dollar apartment in Manhattan and an executive jet with engines warming on the runway) you hit as you drive into Sandton from the South. How can you knowledgeable Gautengers be so BLIND!
We have had a few apocalyptic experiences already. It is really mind blowing to sit having meal on Sea Point beach front while helicopters are scooping water out of the sea to try to stop UCT burning down. If the wind had been in the opposite direction (our typical south easter) it could have been Groote Schuur Hospital. Then you have to take the long way round back to Claremont via the M5 instead of the M3. Hints of apocalypse have been obvious? Can’t you SEE Saunderson-Meyer?
I agree what the Cape experiences may well be chicken feed to what you oh so business smart frontiersmen of Gauteng and Natal. All the oh so brilliant winesipping intelligentsia of the North amongst us. We know a lot about them. Half of them seem to have retired here in the Cape – welcome!!.
I would also say, perhaps YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL WHAT You SAY. I (and I presume most people I know) support BizNews, Politicsweb, The IRR, The Helen Suzman Foundation, several shelters near me for the homeless, the Khayelitsha hospital, the Catholic Church Christmas box operation, (I am not a Catholic by the way), let alone the DA. They all BOMBARD me for donations I was one of the first to dump Surve (pity about the smalls regulations and death notices though). I endures Business Day (until it became too painful to listen to useful fools like Paton and Bruce, typical Northern people – really well meaning but so damn tiresome.) News24 is OK with some very brave people but all the Johnny come lately Afrikaners trying to atone for their sins are too much: I can’t handle listening to Basson and lessons from Melanie Verwoerd on the evils of colonialism and apartheid so I certainly can’t pay for them. Daily Maverick (what a fruit salad) but they occasionally give poor Helen a go and I can some times get past Haffajee. She said she was SAVED from being a teller in Pick ‘n Pay or whatever but actually it might have done her good – look at Magda she came from Poland and had to be one now look where she is. Has Magda left SA yet by the way?
I realise journalists have to get on the pulpit – we’ve had it since Tony Heard invented the pulpit page in the Cape Times with Gordon Shaw writing reams and reams about how evil everyone was (except them) but watch what you say. Advertising aint’so good any more and we quite realise when they ban you lot information will be just about impossible. Then we might have sift through the trash on social media. Who the hell would be on Twitter anyway unless you were a paid intelligence expert.
Finally you say we are all on our own?? Hallelujah! What a revelation!. I would have thought any one but a fool would have realised that we had reached that status when the Afrikaners scuttled back into their laagers after the last general election.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.