Looting and accelerating state-failure warrants forceful private sector and community response


The current widespread looting and failure by the state to intervene warrants a forceful response by businesses and organised community structures to restore law and order. The riots, sparked off as they are by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma, are largely a result of years of economic and social distress accelerated by lockdown restrictions.

Sakeliga therefore:

  1. welcomes all lawful and responsible interventions by members of the public, private security firms, community safety forums, and businesses in protecting life and securing assets from criminal destruction;
  2. calls for state security capacity to be deployed to support these efforts and to work constructively with community safety forums;
  3. encourages business chambers to contribute to local law enforcement, whether public, private, or community-based as well as co-operate cross-culturally with local community structures; and
  4. insists on the restoration of normal social interaction and the ability to earn a living, through ending lockdowns and converting its compulsory regulations to voluntary recommendations.

The current unrest has multiple contributing factors and is not only a party-political phenomenon. The present rioting and looting chiefly in KwaZulu-Natal as well as elsewhere in the country, sparked by the jailing of former President Zuma, was made possible by the culmination of several social, political, and economic forces. While it is unclear at this stage whether the chaos will sustain and spread or dissipate soon, it is a stark reminder of why business communities need to shield themselves from state-failure, develop the means to secure their assets, and build domains of order in which they can add value and build wealth.

As much as the current riots warrant forceful intervention, it should be recognised that communities are suffering under the weight of chronically bad economic policy and an accelerating failure of the state to uphold order. Sakeliga has warned on multiple occasions since March 2020 of the tail risk of lockdowns and its deep social destabilisation sure to cause lasting devastating effects. These effects were never going to play out only in short term job losses and declines in income, but also in longer term social stresses, resource constraints, capital depletion, sustained joblessness, and rising lawlessness. Lockdowns wreak havoc with complex social systems and therefore risk creating unpredictable and compounded problems for communities and businesses.

Pressingly, lockdown policies in the past 16 months have destroyed millions of livelihoods, creating hunger and desperation. The riots now come at a time when renewed lockdowns are once again adding people to the ranks of the unemployed and the unschooled, but this time with savings considerably more depleted. By May this year, around 1.4 million more people were unemployed than at the beginning of 2020, causing severe hardship for them and their several million dependants. School drop-out rates are reported to have tripled to around 750 000 during lockdown. If not the ex-president’s jailing, then something else would have triggered unrest, and likely will again in future. 

Most recently, harder lockdown restrictions and various Covid mandates cause more people to stay indoors, leaving public spaces less occupied by law-abiding communities and opening the space for those who would loot and destroy. Busy daily life in the public domain puts a significant check on criminal and antisocial behaviour.

Government should urgently lift lockdown regulations, thereby allowing people to work for a living, restore the motions of everyday social and commercial interaction, and secure their livelihoods in an orderly fashion, managing their Covid-19 risks in a personal and decentralised manner.

Business chambers will in future likely play an increasingly important role in maintaining law and order in the commercial districts of towns and cities. It would be prudent for business chambers across the country to be vigilant about safety and security and take steps to protect their assets through lawful security networks and cross-cultural cooperation with local communities and networks. A critical aspect of state-proofing businesses must be to deploy lawful and structured security alternatives and supplements to state policing. Sakeliga endorses co-operation with state law enforcement where available, lawful firearm use by communities of business owners in defence of threats to life, active deployment of private armed security services, and co-operation with community security forums like those managed by AfriForum and others.

Sakeliga is dismayed, but unfortunately not surprised, at the lack of police capacity to get the situation under control. Many good and committed police personnel unfortunately find themselves under-resourced and poorly managed and should be supported where possible.