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Weak hand: Ramaphosa in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (©DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

“Sorry we didn’t make it to you yesterday,” said the delivery man. “We had to come from the other side of the city and there was all that trouble in Mitchell’s Plain. They were stoning the vehicles on the highway and there was a lot of shooting. There was more shooting due to the bus strike too. Today the trouble seems to have shifted to Grassy Park and Hout Bay — we have heard of shooting in both those places but luckily they’re not on our route.”

 I nodded — I’d heard about the Mitchell’s Plain trouble but these days civil strife is so common in South Africa that it often doesn’t make the papers at all, only the traffic news, and nobody bothers any more to say what the cause of the trouble is. Instead, it is all put under the general rubric of “service delivery protests”.

What seemed to be the problem, I asked. “Oh, you know how it is,” says the delivery man, who is Coloured. “Some of them say their housing conditions are bad, others are demanding houses or land to build shacks on. That’s what it’s like in the new South Africa, hey? Some people think they will be given property if they just make enough trouble.” A black workman, overhearing this, tells me more bleakly: “What’s happening at Mitchell’s Plain is that the Coloured people and the blacks are fighting one another.”

On April 21 the Kaiser Chiefs soccer team played at the World Cup stadium in Durban — and lost. Their angry fans went on the rampage, burning and looting vehicles and committing some Rand 2.6 million (£150,000) of damage to the stadium itself. On April 1 on the main N3 motorway at Mooi River, more than 100 miles out of Durban, protesters had attacked and burnt 35 large trucks and looted and destroyed a considerable number of other vehicles. This was only a small item in the news and no reason was given for the violence. However, a friend phoned me from the scene, describing a situation of utter chaos. The protest had been against the employment of Zimbabweans as truck-drivers — there is usually a xenophobic element to such troubles — but once the vehicles had been successfully stormed an army of looters joined in. My friend said that the police were just standing watching. When he asked them why they made no move to stop the looting, they had explained that it wouldn’t be safe — some of the looters had guns. This complete passivity on the part of the police is also part of the new normal — it had been just the same at the soccer riot.

President Cyril Ramaphosa had to cut short his attendance at the Commonwealth conference in London to rush back to deal with a huge wave of civil violence in Mahikeng (the old Mafeking) and throughout the North West province, all aimed at trying to get rid of the province’s hated Premier, Supra Mahumapelo. Ramaphosa held meeting after meeting, failed to push Mahumapelo out, and immediately faced a further wave of rioting and arson as a result. Again, it was notable that shops owned by Pakistanis, Somalis and other foreigners were particularly targeted.

Elsewhere land invasions are common and often end in violence with the police using rubber bullets and stun grenades against groups loosely labelled as “protesters”. Land is, indeed, often the heart of the matter — not white-owned agricultural land, despite all the rhetoric about it, but urban land wanted for residential purposes. For many years people have been patient as they hoped for houses. They are patient no more.
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August 27th, 2018
2:08 PM
What's up with these comments only wanting to hear about 'good news'. If there was anything of import that could bring significant change to an evermore dire situation, Mr. Johnson would have mentioned as much. Stop looking for the silver lining everywhere; this may have been a South African strength in the past but given the winds of change currently taking place in the country, it's only serving to blind and incapacitate you. Watch & accept the signs and act realistically.

Gary : From a Distance
July 18th, 2018
1:07 PM
RWJ is the most incisive and insightful commentator I have read on the SA situation. Why, then, is he ignored and ostracised by the mainstream media in South Africa? Is it because he speaks uncomfortable truths that South Africans wish to ignore while indulging in political correctness and enjoying their braaivleis and shopping mall trips? I was born in SA but left after university for England and for the past the past twenty years have been living in a country that has been constantly on the rise and has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, while South Africa is declining with poverty increasing, as I saw in visits in 2013, and 2017.

June 30th, 2018
10:06 AM
Please list the positive things happening?

June 26th, 2018
2:06 PM
Sadly, I think Johnson is being generous is his analysis. The lack of skills, education and intent by the ruling party.

Richard Stephens
June 7th, 2018
12:06 PM
I've never heard such doom and gloom! What about all the positive things that are happening in South Africa - things that we could only dream about with Zuma at the helm!

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