As a third wave of COVID-19 reaches South Africa and nationwide protests escalate following the sentencing of former president Jacob Zuma, Laa'iqah SeedSower speaks of the devastation that has engulfed her homeland in what is being called the worst violence the country has seen since 1994.
“It is heartbreaking to consider that while the pandemic has not brought us to a standstill, our own people have.”
South Africa is confused, weary, afraid, and deeply saddened. The past week of great darkness is inexplicable. Those of us old enough to remember the cold days of apartheid sense familiar darkness sweeping over our beautiful country. Interestingly, the weather mirrored the cold and gray smoke from the burning trucks, buildings, and streets–a far cry from the boastful sunny winter skies we typically enjoy. It feels like darkness greater than the third wave of the COVID-19 virus has taken root in my home province, Gauteng, and the once idyllic and tropical province, KwaZulu Natal, where my friends and colleagues live.
Since the onset of winter, we are fighting a high rate of infections in both areas. Amidst the almost daily, virtual COVID-19 memorials, we also mourn lives lost because of civil unrest. We are fighting something more sinister because it cannot be explained by medical science or logic, or anything really.
Very little is making sense here. I cannot get bread, milk, meat, or vegetables from any shop remotely close to my home). I don’t think any of us are coping psychologically. We're struggling through our days and our conversations; our relationships are strained. We don't know when this will end. Our leaders are erringly silent, and the uncertainty is pushing us beyond the limits already tested by the Delta variant.
We appreciate all prayers, positive energy, and light that our global family can spare.
What started as a protest action against the sentencing of the former president, Jacob Zuma, has escalated into dire repercussions for people in South Africa. Since July 11, the destruction of private property, fire, smoke, violence, theft, and murder have replaced our fight against the third wave of the Delta variant of the Coronavirus.
Hospitals, already under immense pressure with limited supplies and beds for those fighting COVID-19, now face another surge of patients injured in the lootings. Masses of people took to the streets to destroy an already failing economy. They pillaged businesses, shops, hospitals, and warehouses that stored supplies such as medicines, ventilators, pharmaceuticals, and other equipment. Medical staff still face the difficult choice of deciding who to treat first: the victim of COVID-19 or the victim of social unrest.
The supply lines in most areas have been severed, and many people have not received the COVID-19 vaccination, their life-saving medication, or basic necessities. Many ATMs are offline and countless bank branches remain closed. Shelves, once stocked with the essentials, are now empty. Main roads leading into many major cities are blocked with debris.
Most looters were shown on live footage not wearing masks or social distancing. As the COVID-19 death rate climbs in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal, so do the number of casualties and injured because of violence. The country fights two viruses; Coronavirus and rage.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reports that 7,209 new COVID-19 cases have been identified in South Africa as of July 19, representing a 27.3% positivity rate. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are the two hardest-hit provinces by both COVID-19 and the unrest of the dark last week.
It is difficult to give a definitive number of the thousands of people who were involved in the looting and violence. As of July 19, 3,400 have been arrested, including six suspected instigators, according to News24.com. Last week, 25,000 troops were deployed to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal to quell the violence. At least 200 people have died in the unrest.
Some reporters were seen laughing at looters. The laughter of journalists brought me to tears from shock, horror, and anger. We are known for laughing and dancing during difficult times, but I respectfully found this to be in poor taste.
Laughter during unrest and devastation did not seem a responsible action from the people we depend on for accurate news. The laughter, in retrospect, and in my opinion, contributed to the silence and slow reaction, which may have perpetuated the unrest for longer than our people could stand.
A man was filmed trying to fit a large flat-screen television into his car. A woman was filmed pushing a couch outside of a looted furniture store. A man recorded himself throwing his head into a cake at a looted grocery store. ATMs have been bombed, vehicles have been set on fire, and the silence in the streets from the lockdown has been replaced by sirens, helicopters, and gunshots.
The country is in a state of panic, grief, fear, and mourning.
Because produce cannot be transported to stores, charity organizations are sending aid to KwaZulu-Natal, the province most severely impacted by the unrest. There are reports of civilians offering their money and efforts to provide the police force with arms and ammunition, the hospitals and shopping malls with additional security, and shopping malls, streets, and schools their time in clean-up efforts in honor of Nelson Mandela Day. In some areas, civilians have stopped their essential service jobs to stand guard with the police and defense force.
We are devastated and gravely concerned about the situation. We do not know how much longer this will continue. We do not understand why this is continuing. It is heartbreaking to consider that while the pandemic has not brought us to a standstill, our own people have.
We have been called to clean up and rebuild. We are reaching for higher feelings and remembering how important solidarity and Ubuntu are to our very identity. We have received shocking news about the consequences of the dark week, but equally overwhelming news of support from an increasing number of people willing to help.
If there's one thing South Africans are known for, it is courageous love. I stand in agreement that this will pass, and we will rebuild together. Our foremothers and forefathers have instilled perennial hope in us and now is when we must teach the same to our children.
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