Responsible community response to criminality must be enhanced, not stifled – Sakeliga

The saving grace during the disastrous looting that has ensued in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng over the last week, has been the measures taken by community members in protecting their businesses and property.

Business organisation Sakeliga therefore notes with concern the call by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) for a 24-hour curfew in affected KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng looting hotspots. BUSA is calling on the government to exercise extraordinary powers and confine people to their homes for as long as possible, presumably in the hope that a curfew will keep criminal elements away from the streets and allow state security services to secure supply routes. It argues that this is the only way to get food and other basic supplies safely to communities.

However, such a curfew has enormous drawbacks and risks and can greatly destabilise the situation.

“Communities have shown that they need to be mobile, organised, and flexible in the face of these imminent security threats and highly uncertain situation. Supply chains, moreover, are not simple matters, but complex intricate networks that require flexibility and the freedom to move around and respond to the events as they unfold,” says Piet le Roux, CEO of Sakeliga.

Sakeliga opposes curfews and lockdowns, and re-asserts that the present lockdown curfew is already restrictive and counterproductive as is, and should be converted to a voluntary recommendation.

“A curfew inevitably raises the problem of who or what is deemed an essential service during such a time. Such a determination can however not be made by central planners; the economy is an integrated affair, and all members of the production network contribute in important and unrecognised ways to restoring order and supplies.”

Furthermore, a 24-hour curfew should be rejected in favour of maximum flexibility for communities to respond to their unique risks and circumstances.

“State security services have evidently been reliant on community assistance in confronting pressing threats. Confining community members to their homes is likely to make not only communities, but also state security services outnumbered by looters, more vulnerable and impotent. Communities of volunteers that have responded effectively so far therefore cannot tolerate being forced into their homes, risking further attacks and slowing down the recovery and clean-up efforts.”

Sakeliga 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.

“It stands to be recognised across the board that active community participation in their public spaces, to the end of reclaiming them and forming networks of security and economic cooperation across different communities, is what will secure supply chains and business interests now and in the future. In contrast, centralised government intervention and measures such as curfews does more harm than good.”

Sakeliga calls for state security capacity to be deployed to support existing community efforts against looting and criminality, and to work constructively with community safety forums and local business chambers in an effort to restore stability.