Jeurgen Sander, the Financial Controller at Ubuntu Life's Austin HQ, recounts the wave of violence erupting in his hometown of Durban and other parts of South Africa and the healing power of Ubuntu being more prevalent than ever during these trying times.
We celebrate Mandela Day this year in unprecedented times. Former South African president, Jacob Zuma, was arrested last week for contempt of court, after failing to appear at a commission investigating alleged corruption. This triggered what would become one of the most devastating weeks in South African history.
In the days following his arrest, there were protest marches by supporters of the former president which quickly became violent rioting and looting by thousands of people across the provinces of Kwa-Zulu Natal (‘KZN’) and Gauteng. Shopping malls, warehouses, distribution centers, private businesses, farms, apartments and other buildings have been completely cleaned out and burnt to the ground. Places that I have been to countless times in my life, some no more than 5 minutes from my childhood home, all gone. It became a ‘free-for-all’ with people from all backgrounds and classes participating in these damaging acts.
All of this violence and destruction, across the two most populous provinces in South Africa, took place with very little and sometimes no police-presence, especially in Durban (my hometown) and other parts of KZN. The events of the past week have seen 45,000 businesses affected in Durban and surrounding areas, leaving around 129,000 jobs at risk. The country has also seen the death-toll from this devastating week rise to 212 people.
In the midst of all of this fear and heartbreak, South Africans have done what they do best: come together. Ordinary citizens, including my family and friends, took it upon themselves to bravely patrol the streets all day and night to ensure the safety of their families and communities. They have organized clean-ups and spent their days picking up debris left behind on the streets and in businesses and warehouses that were looted and burnt. All of this unrest has strained the food and grocery supply chain in KZN – some people having to wait 6 to 8 hours or more just to get inside a grocery store, only for almost everything to be out of stock. This has urged people, businesses and organizations to arrange distribution of essential foods items for those in need, with some people driving truckloads of bread and milk 6 hours from Johannesburg, Gauteng to Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal just to provide it to desperate families.
The magnitude of the looting and destruction that took place is like nothing we have ever seen before in South Africa, even during the struggle of Apartheid. With so many people and businesses that may never fully recover from this (and those that do most likely taking years to do so) it is extremely heartening to see how this has united the country. People of all races, backgrounds and classes have come together to protect and rebuild the beautiful 'rainbow nation' that is South Africa. This togetherness is the essence of ‘Ubuntu’, which we have not seen in this magnitude in decades, and is a beacon of hope during such difficult times for so many. This Mandela Day, may we remember the meaning of 'Ubuntu' - that we are all connected and should always show humanity towards others.