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July riots – fear still lives on one year after

by Luqmaan Rawat
There are fears the July riots can occur again and worse Photo News On The Flipside

Ever since the July riots of 2021, many have asked why a state of emergency was not called. The destruction and violence were overwhelming. It was clear to many the police were not coping and yet those in power were reluctant to declare a state of emergency. Des Erasmus, journalist at the Daily Maverick, believes those in power hesitated due to the memories of the past.

“For me personally as someone who lived through Apartheid years, it is a hell of a thing. In a country like South Africa, you don’t want to go there. I can understand the trepidation of the superiors of enforcing something like that. Having the army crawling all over the place, possibly harsh lockdowns, does not inspire confidence in leadership.”

A repeat of the July riot is inevitable

Despite the President being confident the July riots won’t happen again, his confidence is not shared by KZN residents, especially business owners. Community Police Forum members are also worried about it occurring again. General Mkhwanazi, Provincial Commissioner, told Erasmus, in an interview with her, that it was a “worry”.

“The expert panel report that was commissioned by President Ramaphosa, which we only received in February even though it was on his desk since November, said the same thing. It said there was deep trepidation amongst the public that we saw in July would re-occur.”

For those living in KZN and especially the eThekwini area, there is always a fear of a normal service delivery protest erupting into something else, said Erasmus.

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Charging those who incited the violence 

Up till now, the ringleaders have not been brought to justice although the country was told the government knew who they were. There has also been no progress on charging those like Dudu Zuma, who many believe incited the violence. This could be chalked up to the government being fearful that should charges be made, another riot will break out, said Erasmus.

“General Mkwanazi mentioned it himself during our interview. He said she [Dudu Zuma] was inciting people and that if it was up to him, he would have had her charged. Of course, it is not up to him. As for the mastermind of the riots being arrested, it doesn’t look like it is going to happen anytime soon. We also have to distinguish between the three sects involved in the riots. There were the masterminds, the instigators and then of course you have the looters themselves.”

Arresting the small fish while the main ones get away

About seventeen instigators have been arrested. One case was withdrawn, and the rest are all on bail barring one, said Erasmus. Although sixteen instigators and 2000 looters have been arrested, not one mastermind has been charged.

“None of the so- called masterminds have been arrested and that is an irritation for everyone. It is also an indictment on the state again. I know that in questions I put to the Presidency, they said that in order to avoid unrest in the future, they have drawn up a very thorough implementation plan. The plan goes according to the recommendations made in the expert panel plan. We sit with an implementation plan with a government that is known for not implementing.”

It is for this reason that residents of KZN are on edge that something like this might happen again, said Erasmus. Having a plan with a government that cannot act is a disaster waiting to happen.

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The Dirty Dozen

The phrase “The Dirty Dozen” has been thrown around a lot by the government. These twelve people are known to the government and are believed to be the masterminds behind the July riot. However, after reading various reports and attending various meetings, Erasmus feels the “Dirty Dozen” are the instigators, not the masterminds.

“The police seem to have conflated the instigators and the mastermind. The instigators were on social media telling people where to go and what to do. They were not the brains behind it all. We are constantly told in South Africa that there are dirty actors trying to sabotage us, trying to bring the country to its knees but nothing changes. We never ever have access to any kind of evidence to show us who those people are.”

People know what they are doing, they just don’t care

The damage caused during the July riot was devastating. There is still infrastructure that was destroyed that has not been repaired yet. Many have questioned whether those who rioted understood what they were doing. Erasmus believes they do know but they just don’t care anymore.

“I think there is such despair and hopelessness in this country, particularly amongst the youth, that they honestly feel they don’t have other avenues. That’s why in particular the high levels of youth unemployment are a ticking time bomb.”

There is a way forward to prevent another riot, but it will not be an easy one. The government will have to do what it has never done before. That is act on the information provided by the expert panel. It is time for the gloves to come off and do the demanding work. Without a strong approach, the past is most definitely set to be repeated.

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