Editor’s Note: Today’s letter is written by a Sovereign Man team member, Andre Bothma, who is based in South Africa.
In KwaZulu-Natal province, where Zuma is from, supporters of the former president launched a massive, coordinated protest campaign against his incarceration. Freeways were blocked with burning tires. Vehicles were stoned. Trucks set alight across the province.
And then the looting and arson started in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, two of the province’s largest cities.
South Africa, once again, is making global headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In case you missed the news, last week former President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry.
It was probably a calculated risk on his part; had Zuma actually appeared at the tribunal, he may very well have been convicted and sentenced to a much harsher punishment.
And when his sentence was announced, many South Africans gave a collective sigh of relief; it had been a long-overdue victory for the rule of law.
But then, virtually overnight, things started falling apart — rapidly.
First it was just small shops. But then entire shopping malls were looted and burned to the ground.
Once the shopping malls were in ashes, these “mostly peaceful” protesters moved on to torch distribution centers and loot cargo containers in Durban’s harbor.
They even rampaged against some of the region’s critical infrastructure, going as far as setting a water treatment facility on fire.
At this point the riots were still localized to the KwaZulu-Natal region, Zuma’s home turf.
But then the rioters started agitating for protests to break out in Johannesburg, the country’s economic capital…
Nobody thought the violence was going to spread there; Johannesburg is not a Zuma stronghold, and the locals there enjoy a much greater level of affluence than those living in Zuma’s native KwaZulu-Natal.
And yet, overnight, the violence spread to Johannesburg.
Bear in mind that South Africa’s national police force has been recently ‘defunded’, with a massive 11.8 billion rand (roughly $750 million) budget cut. For South Africa, that’s a staggering sum of money.
So with a heavily defunded police force unable to quell the violence, more ‘mostly peaceful’ protestors rampaged across these two key provinces, specifically targeting supply chain infrastructure.
On Monday night, for example, rioters brazenly looted a BLOOD BANK while being filmed on live television.
As things stand today, the Johannesburg and Durban downtown areas look like war zones.
I live in Cape Town, which so far hasn’t erupted. But the atmosphere here is tense; people are justifiably worried. Yesterday afternoon I came home to find a police NYALA (a NYALA is an armored 4×4 riot control vehicle) speeding past my house.
And the panic buying has already begun; I waited in line for ages last night at my local grocery store, only to find that many major product categories were totally sold out.
The line of cars waiting outside our local petrol station told the same story.
Economic analysts and observers are now sounding the alarm over food security risks; they’re saying that all the looting and burning of major infrastructure and distribution centers could cause a food shortage.
But South Africa is already running out of food — the shortages are here!
Across Durban, finding products like bread, milk and insulin for sale has become almost impossible.
The few shops that are brave enough to remain open are selling loaves of bread for 4-5X the normal price. And good luck finding any petrol anywhere in the city.
As of yesterday, the body count stood at 70.
Over a billion dollars in damages to businesses and public infrastructure.
Supply chains decimated and investor confidence gone…
Thousands of retail jobs, gone for good, and even more at risk.
The rational person needs to be intellectually honest about what’s happening right now: this is deliberate violence and sabotage designed to destroy critical infrastructure and terrify people, all in an effort to influence public policy (and free Jacob Zuma).
But there’s a word for this: terrorism.
And it’s been coming for a long time. South Africa has long been home to instability, corruption, and tension. We have politicians like Julius Malema who pour gasoline on racial tensions and threaten to seize private property.
It’s clear that South Africa has been declining gradually.
But then all this violence broke out very suddenly, practically overnight.
As Simon often writes, it’s like how Hemingway described going bankrupt: “gradually, then suddenly.”
Human beings are easily susceptible to normalcy bias — the bizarre voice in our heads that tells us “everything will be OK” even when the warning signs are completely obvious.
Our brains simply cannot comprehend that tomorrow could be radically different than today… and that our world could be turned completely upside down.
It is for reasons like these that Sovereign Man consistently writes about having a Plan B, which Simon describes as something like an insurance policy.
But you can’t wait until your house is already on fire before thinking about an insurance policy.
Yesterday, I spoke with a successful business owner based in KwaZulu-Natal. He runs a franchise business, and scores of shops just like his have already been looted and burned to the ground nearby.
He and his wife are almost at retirement age, and have had the means to get a Plan B in place for at least the last decade.
But they didn’t. They procrastinated. They put off taking action because there was no clear and present threat compelling them to do so.
Now, at a time where literally no one in their right mind wants to buy commercial property in their city, they are looking to liquidate their assets to get a Portuguese Golden Visa, which gives them a flexible second residency option in Europe.
Given that the application process takes several months to complete, even outside of Covid times, they’re way too late.
Having a great Plan B requires NOT procrastinating… and taking the appropriate steps for your situation BEFORE anything terrible happens, while you still have the resources and presence of mind to do so.
Because if you wait until the proverbial hits the fan, you’ll probably be too frantic and panicked to be thinking clearly about rational solutions.
Don’t give in to normalcy bias and assume that everything will always be OK. The last 18 months should be reminder enough that things can (and do) change very quickly.
Two weeks ago, South Africa was still a relatively well-functioning country. Yet the “civil” in civil society has been proven to be a precariously thin veneer.