A letter to the community of Qadi/Nyuswa – Written on 27th July 2021
It was with a mix of disbelief, disappointment and anger that we witnessed the destruction and looting of local businesses in our community of Qadi/Nyuswa, including hardware stores and spaza shops, by residents of our community during the past week’s unrest.
The Valley Trust (TVT) was not spared. One of the businesses targeted, the Valley Trading Store, operates as a tenant of TVT and from a building owned by TVT. Over the course of three days, the building was completely looted and partially set alight. This destruction represents a loss of income not just for the operator but for TVT as well.
A group of individuals, travelling in several vehicles and accompanied by a mob on foot, tried to force their way onto the TVT premises. Only the timely intervention of the local ward councillor prevented the group from carrying out their dastardly deeds. On one of the evenings, vandals cut a hole through the TVT fence and were thwarted by our security guard as they were attempting to tamper with vehicles on our property.
This behaviour by community members is hard to understand because all the resources that were destroyed served to benefit the community. None of the businesses were connected to former President Zuma’s incarceration (the purported main reason for the protests) in any way, and in fact, they helped to alleviate hunger and suffering within our communities.
The spaza shops provided community members with easy access to basic groceries and other needs such as pre-paid electricity vouchers. The hardware stores provided much-needed building material.
The Valley Trading Store also provided gas and paraffin for cooking and lighting as well as the only ATM in our community. None of these items were spared from the looting. Yet, being within walking distance or the more reasonable cost of a local trip by taxi, these businesses saved households the need to take costly public transport to suburban shopping centres.
What was disappointing about the spectacle was to see adults, in particular mothers and grandmothers, participate in the looting, many of them accompanied by and encouraging their children to do the same. This was outright theft, without conscience or consideration of the impact on the business owners who are making an honest living while providing much needed necessities in our communities.
Mothers, and especially grandmothers, are taken to be the voices of reason and often serve to teach morality and the difference between right and wrong to the young people in their households. When they commit criminal acts, in broad daylight and seemingly without shame, and encourage the youngsters in their charge to do the same, this represents a lamentable loss in the moral fibre of our families and households. It is difficult to see what hope we have as a community if the elders in our households have lost the moral high ground in such a shocking manner.
The anger comes about because, only a few days after the looting, the consequences of destroying the local economy are being felt. With many breadwinners either laid off from their jobs or temporarily unable to work and earn an income due to the destruction (including of firms in other parts of the city), many households are already struggling to survive.
There is a shortage of food and other groceries in the homes and some have run out of electricity. The only places now available to get these are in Botha’s Hill, Hillcrest or Pinetown, and many households can’t afford the taxi fare.
This was an obvious consequence of the looting from the very beginning. So, to the looters we ask: How has looting these businesses helped you? Are you happy now? Izinyembezi zosomabhizinisi enibantshontshele angeke ziwele phansi. It is now time to suffer the consequences!
Once again, organisations such as The Valley Trust and others, the same ones that you attempted to or succeeded in looting, are expected to come to your aid. Where is the sense in that? How do you expect people to be motivated to help when you yourself were intent on robbing or destroying them? How does a development organisation come to the aid of a community that brought about its own suffering? This situation is highly discouraging.
At TVT, we have chosen to focus on the fact that our main project looks out for the wellbeing of young children. They are themselves victims of these foolish acts by adults who should know better. We will stand up and help because that is our calling and mandate. We also know that there are community members of conscience who did not participate in the looting but who are suffering because of it.
We call on community members to act responsibly, stand up for what is right rather than being carried in the foolishness of the moment, and ensure that they secure their wellbeing for the long term. In addition, as a community we must hold those responsible for these acts to account. They are known in our communities. Like is being done in other parts of the city, they should be made to give back their ill-gotten gains and face the full might of the law. Only in this way will we have a community that sees the progress it so desperately needs.
By S’bo Vilakazi, Executive Director, The Valley Trust
S’bo Vilakazi – Executive Director
In response to the looting, TVT is conducting a study aimed at understanding community perceptions of the riots. The study comprises focus groups, key informant interviews and community dialogues. It also seeks to work with communities to develop ways in which events that cause harm (such as destruction of local economies or assets) within the community can be prevented. The study is expected to be completed by the end of October. We hope to share our findings then.