Regardless of whether you think South Africa’s current mood is pro-ex or anti-incumbent, or the other way round, if you had a reliable mood-metre, and were asked to gauge SA’s national zeitgeist, which side do you think the needle will point? To the mellowed underwhelming, celebratory contagious or introspectively downbeat end?
After seeing looters engaging in unimaginable and ludicrous derring-do, such as dragging furniture, fridges and luxury TVs on the ground, and the apparent psychotic glee in their eyes, you may be pardoned for thinking that nothing quite warms the cockles of a South African heart than being an anarchist. What do you discern from the drift of the national dialogue? What do the video clips on the widespread looting do to you? Do they tear your heart apart or make it swell with happiness?
As your eyes were glued to the TV monitor or some electronic gadget, did you hear echoes of fixation to decades of white privilege and the intractability of inequality, social deprivation, economic hardship, untold pain and suffering? Are you among the hordes of individuals who are firmly clutching to the dogma of finger-pointing, liberally demonising and scapegoating Zuma or Zondo as the principal architects of the mayhem? Are you felicitously living in catatonic denial, tired of collateral toxic nostalgia and blacks always capitalising on injustices of the past, forever prattling on about the wickedness of Jan Van Riebeeck and Hendrik Verwoerd while conveniently forgetting that for the last three decades, they have been clutching at the steering wheel of the rainbow land of equal opportunities? Are you tempted to throw in a moral dimension into the mix, thus only seeing graphic acts of deliberate insanity, unjustified crime, conscious overindulgence and improprietous thuggery? Or do you dismiss all the criminal activities as welcome acts of temporary redistribution of ‘wealth’ to the underprivileged masses?
In the precipitous and humiliating fall of Zuma, did you see a healthy blow to his ballooning ego and the triumphant vindication of an independent judiciary and the rule of law, or the regrettable folly of man’s failure to temper law with common sense resulting in the avertible sagging of the citizenry’s spirits? Do you think that ego-maniacal tone-deaf humans in positions of authority arrantly failed to acknowledge that the law was made by humans for humans, and that for the sake of preserving humanity and maintaining tranquility, it could not have been expected that some smart alien would fall from outer space to breathe a smidgin of common sense into their non-Medo-Persian law? By engaging on parlous ego trips, did the leaders recklessly huddle under the umbrella of the letter of the law while failing to objectively appreciate its spirit, thus foisting on the nation a perilously dark economic and political cloud? Are the latest developments simply a case of profound lust for emotional grandstanding and of brinkmanship gone awry, all on the back of towering but fatuous egos?
As you watched the unfolding of Zuma’s alleged indiscretions before the State Capture Commission, and were informed of his warrant of arrest issued by the Supreme Court of the land, did it ever dawn on you that he could be incarcerated? Or did you think that the political system would shield and mollycoddle one of its darling supremos? What is your view now as you see unprecedented crime playing out before your eyes? Are you brimming with despair or envy? Or are you selfishly whooping with a blizzard of schadenfreude? Do you grin at the agony of our neighbours? Do you derive a warm sense of vicarious pleasure from multiple episodes of guffawing or are you consumed with daily bouts of immeasurable pain?
Are you willing to embrace candid and unvarnished truth, knowing that what happened in SA could easily happen in any economy? While no one is endowed with the super-bullet to fix emerging national challenges, we can draw vital lessons from our neighbours. The first lesson is; civil disorder can spark unprecedented acts of crime, stimulating concentric and destructive tidal waves, the effect of which, would be felt by the vast ocean of fragile masses over a long period. Though attempt was made at mobilising relevant state machinery in SA; the police, the state intelligence and the army, it was not easy to contain crime. Owing to TV and Internet, regional acts of crime threatened to flare up into country-wide anarchy.
The second lesson is; it is important for relevant state forces to always keep their ear to the ground and pay attention to simmering tensions with a view to proactively assisting the government to quell such tensions through meaningful engagements. Screaming out euphonious but egotistical chest-thumping bluff and bluster, such as, criminals would face the wrath of the long and mighty arm of the law does little if anything to quell tensions, contain organised crime, and insurrections. Smart policing would never leave the community out. Without necessarily endowing the people with a carte blanche, it would be helpful to educate them on what to do with a view to stemming the tide of evolution of crime. As part of their collective agency, the people must appreciate that they have a role to play in actively contributing towards the building of safer environs.
Without resorting to autocratic means of restricting cellular connectivity or web-based communication, it is hard to bar communication between criminals, and by extension, even harder to restrict organised movement of potential criminals. Apart from a large uncontrollable population, the South African police had to deal with the challenge of many retail centres that were accessible via multiple roads. Effective combating of crime of the current magnitude is as difficult as dealing with unconventional warfare, like mounting guerilla insurgency. Hence the third lesson; just as astute generals prepare for war during times of peace, it is essential for retail centre managers and business owners to work on making their centres and shops reasonably intruder-proof during the time when there is no looting.
Capital investment in securing the entire complex is essential. Almost all the regional malls in Gaborone are easily accessible by foot from multiple ends. They are an easy target for criminal activities involving crowds. And a good number of shops have attractive entrances and shopfronts that could be easily burglarised. Surely, retail centre managers and shop owners have their work cut out for them, if they are to be well positioned to avoid episodes of nail-biting during times of attacks. Dreams of creating safe neighbourhoods will always remain a velleity if no one takes responsibility for beefing up security.
The ratio of the police to the public is always an issue in all countries. Violently dealing with crime where crowds of different ages are involved is in most cases less than desirable. Although security forces would have access to live ammunition, commanders-in chief are always reluctant to issue crime-deterring shoot-to-kill orders. Generally that is not acceptable, and human rights activists would be the first to scream that two wrongs do not make a right. With the nine-year-old painful wound cast by the long shadow of his alleged involvement in the Marikana massacre of 34 miners still fresh and mortifying, President Cyril Ramaphosa was bound to have moral scruples about the use of fatal force. Herein lies the fourth lesson; since the slaying of citizens is never a viable option, it is crucially important for state security organs to collectively optimise their resources, trade intelligence, determine potential national fault lines and conscientiously strategise on how conflagration of anarchy could be decisively nipped in the bud without resorting to an avalanche of state-sponsored murders.
The fifth lesson is; check the insurance policy for your business and commercial property. Pay attention to exclusions. If one of those exclusions is cover for riots, I would suggest you pay a visit to your insurer and make sure that the said clause is revised, even if it means increasing the magnitude of premiums. What is happening in SA had never happened before last week. Imagine the wailing and gnashing of the teeth that will surely ensue! Innocent people caught up in a giant, dizzying and gothic treadmill of unemployment, poverty, rental defaults, lack of sufficient food and medication. And the sixth and final lesson; the thought and anticipation of a better tomorrow should rouse us to adopt the mantra, the worst days lie ahead of us. May we never be complacent! Now is the time to pause, think and act.