Comment by: Pastor Ray McCauley Sun 25 July 2021:
The dramatic events of last week left most South Africans angry, confused, worried and fearful, with a sense of panic and numbness. We have never witnessed that level of violence, looting, damage, burning of businesses, destruction of property, and, sadly, the senseless loss of human lives, since the dawn of our young democracy. This comes while in the deadly pandemic which has already caused so much harm to our society in which we have lost fellow brothers and sisters, livelihoods and businesses.
It is hard to comprehend and even understand what could have pushed people to go on a rampage of this magnitude and being merciless to other people’s lives, businesses, jobs, livelihoods and properties. What was even worse, and the most painful was to watch the burning and destruction of shops, malls and properties after looting them. There is no human reasoning nor logic to all this devastation of human life and people’s businesses.
The violence, looting and destruction of businesses spread uncontrollably over a matter of days in both Gauteng and KZN, that even schools in both Provinces were not spared. I believe that more than 145 schools were torched and destroyed, very sad indeed. The biggest losers here are the children who will be unable to attend school and prepare themselves adequately for their future. This is at the back of the devastating pandemic that has forced the Department of Education to approach things differently to protect both educators and learners from the deadly pandemic – the last thing they needed is the physical destruction of schools. One wonders where the money will come from for rebuilding given the fact that most of the budgets were spent in responding to COVID-19, and of course the corruption in the midst of it all.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why, when people are unhappy about something, that learners must suffer. Something much deeper has gone wrong in our society. One can only describe it as self-destructive behaviour where nothing actually exists or that existence or values are meaningless. How does one explain a community that, in its anger, sees nothing wrong with destroying the future of its children, human lives, jobs, businesses and other people’s livelihoods?
What’s even more disturbing was to hear that some of the SASSA offices, where the elderly and vulnerable receive their monthly grants, were also destroyed and their monthly grants had to either be postponed until further notice or alternative arrangements could be made. The malls and shops where the majority of our people do their shopping and business have been destroyed leaving people without basic supplies. At the time of writing this article, the death toll was sitting at 276. This is a senseless and needless loss of human life.
No amount of explaining, even arrests, can take away the pain, anger andsuffering from the people of South Africa.
This has been the biggest challenge yet to face our democratically elected Government. President Cyril Ramaphosa faced criticism from some quarters of our society for what has been described as a slow response from the Government in regards to this unrest. However, some of us believe the President responded correctly given the magnitude of the unrest and the many people that were looting and damaging properties. We believe that he was calm and firm in the crisis. If the President had overreacted and the police started shooting at people, the crisis would have escalated and many more people would have lost their lives – blaming him for another ‘Marikana’. This was a challenging balancing act and we believe the President did the best he could under the circumstances.
However, we agree with the sentiments expressed regarding the security cluster ministers who have been criticised for their poor communications including contradicting the President during this crisis and unrest. The cluster failed to take South Africans into their confidence by providing accurate information and the correct framing of the crisis. It is highly unacceptable for ministers who communicated so poorly during a crisis then become the story and the headline
instead of the unrest itself.
We are fully aware of the devastation the pandemic has inflicted on our people – it has amplified the poverty and inequality which was already there. However, violence, disruption of supply chains and destroying our fellow brothers’ and sisters’ property and businesses can never be justified, or be a way of resolving the issues that confront us. We appeal to and urge all our people to cease this behaviour. Our Constitution does guarantee our people the right to peaceful protest and demonstration whenever they are grieved and at the same time it guarantees the protection of other people’s rights. As South Africans, we have always done this with distinction until now.
Amid all the drama, violence, looting, loss of human life and devastation we saw, once again South Africans in their communities came together with the law enforcement agencies to protect their malls, shops, properties and businesses. We saw many organisations and NGO’s going out to communities, shops and malls to clean up operations and provide food for people. Sunday 18 July 2021 was declared a National Day of Prayer where many churches and other organisations joined in prayer for our nation. In addition, there has been a huge mobilisation of food supplies and other basic needs for distribution to our fellow brothers and sisters across the country. This is what the Spirit of Ubuntu represents and what being a Rainbow Nation means. More than ever before, we need to stand together in unity despite the challenges we face. We have overcome before and we will overcome again. We appeal to and urge all our people to cease from any unlawful behaviour. We call upon all our Church Leaders, Religious Leaders, Pastors, Churches and all faithbased communities to unite and bring about peace in our Nation.
As we pick ourselves up from the events of last week and continue to battle the pandemic, which is still raging among us and continues to kill many of our people, let us reflect as a Nation and ask ourselves tough questions regarding our future.
One of the questions we have to confront is the issue of poverty and inequality. It is reported that the gap between the haves and the have nots is growing at an alarming rate – the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. This is a dangerous situation that is not a sustainable trajectory for our Nation. It must be tackled before it tackles us otherwise there will be no winners, only losers.
The second question is the high rate of unemployment, particularly among the youth which is reported to be at 70 percent. We cannot afford to let so many people remain unemployed – this is a ticking time bomb that we cannot ignore any longer.
Unless our Government shows some political will to deal with these challenges facing our people, anxiety and restlessness will continue in our country.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS
LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC) AND PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES