Defeating the counter-revolutionaries: the …

Troubles and looting in Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa. (Photo / s: Felix Dlangamandla / Shiraaz Mohamed / Leila Dougan)

Did the instigators lose control of the unrest in July? Maybe not. General chaos seems to have been their real goal. It didn’t matter what the fate of the raging masses was, as long as the plan to emasculate the state was successful.

Joel Netshitenzhe is the Executive Director of the Mapungubwe Institute and a member of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC). He writes in a personal capacity.

Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, speaking to French visitors in 1972, said “it is too early to judge”, pointedly referring to the importance of the French Revolution of 1789. This is used to illustrate the China’s long-term planning mentality. However, it later emerged that, either because the discussion was lost in translation or because Zhou may be hearing impaired, he believed the issue concerned the 1968 French Youth Uprising.

However, South African experts and others should be forgiven for arguing that it is too early to appreciate the full ramifications of the July 2021 chaos in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The implications overlap with many aspects of social life. They concern the security of the democratic state and its ability to protect citizens and property, the fate of constitutional democracy, the social psychology of protest, the impact of poverty and inequality, the pent-up irritation with Covid-19 blockages and much more. However, care must be taken to avoid drawing straight lines of cause and effect between the orgy of plunder and economic sabotage on the one hand, and the major questions of political economy on the other.

The uprising of July 2021 was orchestrated. Municipal IQ observes in Daily Maverick (July 25) that in normal service delivery protests, looting was only recorded in 16%, unlike 71% in the recent uprising. The looting, he says, is generally “tangential to most of these protests … rather than becoming the center of attention.”

According to the Managing Director of the Road Freight Association (Daily Maverick, July 29), the fire and the hijacking of trucks on the N3 artery were deliberately planned, with the aim of “causing a congestion point” and creating “the impassability of the roads”. In addition, an analysis of social media posts shows that specific activists coordinated the chaos, giving instructions on which roads to close and which centers were targeted for looting. These activists then reported “to commanders when members executed a plan.”

The government security cluster says that besides warehouses and the logistics system, key strategic points such as water infrastructure and airports have also come under attack. The aim was to cause as much damage as possible, including disruption of supply chains. Some of the communications from the instigators advised people to store food and water for the long term.

It all came after thinly veiled threats about what would happen if the former president was arrested for contempt of court.

Now, you don’t cause organized chaos of this magnitude overnight. This was obviously expected over a long period. Whether the contempt was deliberately designed to generate the uprising is a matter of guesswork. The same is true of the question of the ultimate goal, given that there are other ongoing legal proceedings and many beneficiaries of corruption and state capture have to face their righteous desserts.

Only one conclusion can be drawn: the intention was to create such instability that at least one paralyzed state would not be able to ensure the rule of law and, at most, leadership at the helm. government would be removed.

Call it insurrection, counter-revolution or whatever you like, but there is no reason why a counter-revolution process cannot take the form or result in a mass insurgency.

This is where the interconnection between orchestrated events and mass psychology resides. It is fair to say that the levels of poverty and inequality in our society are social tinder, always ready to catch fire. Add to that the difficulties resulting from the multi-layered devastation of Covid-19, and the counter-revolutionaries only had to ignite the game.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, a tactical approach emerged after many years of debate over the balance between armed actions and mass mobilization – that these pillars should feed off of each other. Armed struggle in the South African context, it was agreed, could only be successful when “the people are in political movement”. Likewise, the organizers of last month’s unrest have sought to undertake organized acts of sabotage, while sparking a widespread uprising.

Have the instigators lost control of events? Maybe not. General chaos seems to have been their real goal. It didn’t matter what the fate of the raging masses was, as long as the plan to emasculate the state was successful. It was pointed out that part of the strategy may have been to elicit a bloody response from law enforcement agencies and then use it to generate a mass national uprising.

Of course, effective intelligence and scenario planning would have limited the overall damage, and weaknesses in this regard urgently need to be addressed. But, with the uprising spreading to many centers, the police were overwhelmed. No police force has the capacity to simultaneously prevent attacks on malls, warehouses, thoroughfares and other targets.

How has the wind been reversed?

If the deployment of more soldiers from the Defense Forces (ANDF) helped stem the tide, it is essentially the counter-mobilization of “people in political movement” for good, which has generated a new psychology. social. The protection and cleaning of shopping malls by civil society activists and other members of the community, and a greater appreciation for the self-harm that the looting caused, created a new atmosphere.

While government communication helped foster this atmosphere, poor coordination and central messaging created embarrassing spectacles of government ministers contradicting each other. If anything was needed to demonstrate that we have not yet recovered from the post-2009 mentality of departmental strongholds, this is it – and the sooner we stop it, the better.

Over the days, it seems that the action of the security forces gradually disrupted the network of instigators. And it is also significant that the attempt of the counterrevolutionaries to cling to the Zulu monarch amabutho and the taxi industry fell flat. In addition, there was no significant support from seven of the nine provinces.

As many have argued, the social tinder that was kindled by the instigators reflects the levels of poverty and inequality in our society. But not enough emphasis has not been placed on the fact that the victims of the looting were both large corporations, mostly owned by whites, and many entities owned by black entrepreneurs, including malls, franchises and small businesses. companies. It follows that we cannot seek to fight against inequalities simply by co-opting a black elite in the court of privilege.

Is it an act of madness, as reflected in this article, to talk about this experience in the past tense?

The plot may be broader, and much more may still be on the horizon. In KwaZulu-Natal, racist and ethnic mobilization continues, with chauvinists and criminals in Phoenix and the Inanda-Ntuzuma-KwaMashu complex seeking to fan the flames of conflict. Foreign state and non-state actors could even be involved.

A central lesson from this experience is that security interventions, both proactive and reactive, have their limits. The deployment of defense forces can only be temporary.

The solution lies in the mobilization of the people in the political movement for good. They are the ultimate defenders of democracy that no counterrevolutionary can defeat. As the government and the social partners have agreed, this must be combined with a wide range of immediate economic and social interventions.

But leaders need to move beyond the dance of quick wins. It is a time when the country must go back to basics and commit to macro solutions to macro-social challenges. The 1994 political pact survived over the years because hope and confidence were maintained as people’s living conditions improved and / or because they believed tomorrow would be better than today. .

Now there needs to be honest reflection on the type of social system we seek to create – one that combines high rates of economic growth with a minimum standard of living below which no South African should sink. Community activists also point out a detail that needs immediate attention: social work in communities to deal with the collapse of family structures and the drug addiction pandemic that makes some young people subject to manipulation.

As for party politics, the argument that the uprising is an internal battle between ANC factions may sound appealing, but it misses the core issue. The justice system has been challenged and the constitutional order challenged – and this is far more important than partisan politics. It is essential to avoid the psychology of projection and to ensure that the overwhelming majority is definitely part of the people in political movement.

The ANC, however, cannot sidestep the existential question of unity in principle if it hopes to lead the process of societal renewal. As history has shown, appeasement does not satisfy a voracious beast. The revolutionaries of old have gone badly, and the bad people who infiltrated the ANC – and their criminals who cling to society in general – seek to drag the organization and the country with them. A decisive cleanup is the only means of organizational survival.

And so, it may be too early to appreciate the full implication of the July 2021 uprising. But one thing is clear: Just as South Africans have been their own liberators, they are the ultimate defenders of democracy. . DM

Thelma J. Longworth

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