'No to looting!': South Africans mobilise to clean up after riots
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After a week of rioting swept South Africa, many people came out to clean the streets of Durban, the country’s second-largest city. South African social media is full of photos of these clean-up campaigns as well as messages calling for unity across the country.
"Does anyone need help cleaning up?" This type of message has been pouring onto the Facebook group Clean-Up Durban, which was created on July 14 to coordinate volunteers to clean up the city after the violent protests and looting that swept South Africa at the beginning of last week. Now, more than 7,600 people have started following the group and, in less than a week, there have been several dozen clean-up operations.
Participants in the clean-up have been sharing videos on social media to encourage others to join them and calling for unity and solidarity under the hashtag #unitedurban:
Earlier this month, more than 200 people died in a wave of violence that swept South Africa after former president Jacob Zuma turned himself into the authorities on July 7. A judge sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison for refusing to appear before an anti-corruption commission last February. Riots broke out and, in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, some people looted businesses, warehouses and factories. Durban is located in this province.
“We need to come together for positive things, not negative things”
Kieran Bauristhene, who is 32, manages a factory in Westmead, located to the west of Durban. He organised a clean-up operation on Saturday, July 17 in the industrial zone where he has worked for the past twelve years. He was shocked by the extent of the damage caused by the riots.
On Wednesday, when the looting stopped, I decided to come and see the situation for myself (…) It was total chaos, I had never seen that level of destruction. The road was blocked by items that had been looted and pillaged. There were shopping carts on the sidewalk. And there was a terrible odour. Food had started to go bad. In these conditions, employees couldn’t come back to work. I told myself that it would be better to clean up ourselves instead of waiting for others to do it.
Hundreds of people came to help out on Saturday. It only took us two hours to clean up everything, even though I was sure that it would take us two days. So many people came – from some who work in the factory to elderly people. Some came with their children. People of all backgrounds participated.
We need to unite to do positive things, not negative things. I don’t approve of [the rioting] at all, it’s completely illegal. It’s sad that people feel desperate enough enough to do that. But that doesn’t set a good example for everyone else, especially our children.
"The very least we could do (…) was clean up what other members of the community broke”
Some of the rioters were from Ntuzuma B township, a community in the north of Durban. On July 18, a 25-year-old man from the township named Nonkululeko Nonkanyezi Zungu organised a clean-up effort, working alongside the chief of the neighbourhood committee, the city, the police and the taxi industry. Zungu spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team:
On Saturday, we saw that everyone was busy cleaning up and felt bad that we were just sitting around when there were things that needed to be repaired. We decided that taking some responsibility for the clean-up was the least we could do to show investors and the world that we weren’t proud of what happened. We needed to take responsibility for our actions and clean up what other members of the community had broken.
We want to say no to racism, no to looting and yes to the protection of our infrastructure and yes to a resilient community.
The people who came together to clean also encouraged those who had participated in the riots to return any items that they had stolen, like the authorities asked. Zungu said that a number of people put refrigerators on the side of the road so that the police could pick them up.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa came to see the clean-up and rebuilding efforts in the Soweto township in Johannesburg on July 18. The press recorded him participating in the operation.
The destruction of hundreds of shops and supermarkets has put pressure on the poorest populations. Quite a few people experienced a food and petrol shortage over a period of several days. According to American bank JPMorgan, the South African economy could lose up to three points on their GBP over the next trimester.