Cape Town –Wednesday, 14 July 2021 – The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) strongly condemns, in the strongest terms, the violence, looting and destruction that is ongoing in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provinces. IJR calls on South Africans to calm and unite as the country pursues democratic processes and promotes a cohesive and inclusive vision for the future.

Protests began following the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma, but have now morphed, taking on new and dangerous dimensions conflated with criminality as people are seizing the opportunity to loot stores, shops and businesses. Cases of arson have been reported and economic activities were disrupted. Many precious lives have been lost. In response, some residents and community members have taken to protecting themselves, often armed. It is also of great concern to see the resurfacing of xenophobic sentiments and polarised narratives.

The situation needs to be understood in its entirety and reveals the underlying driving factors behind the chaos, including the levels of desperation among South Africans who have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening the rising unemployment, poverty, inequality. The violence only serves to undermine the gains the country has made by disrupting livelihoods, preventing access to essential services and undermining the rule of law. The violence has also halted the urgent COVID-19 vaccination process in some areas.

We cannot divorce the current situation from the legacies of the past. Slavery, colonialism and apartheid have scarred the national psyche with attendant trauma. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started the process towards justice and peace, there is much that remains to be done. The 2019 South African Reconciliation Barometer reports that most South Africans believe that levels of corruption, inequality and access to employment opportunities had either stayed the same or worsened since the dawn of democracy. South Africans continue to live with the consequences of decades and centuries of dispossession and inequality. The IJR works to create fair, inclusive and democratic societies, including supporting institutions so that they enjoy the trust of citizens and are seen as legitimate. The decisions of the Constitutional Court should be viewed as important democratic processes that safeguard human rights, promote justice and the rule of law. South Africa fought hard to attain democracy. The prevailing violence, however, reveals that a new social contract is needed between the citizens and the state – one that is premised on trust, accountability and action.

We applaud the government for taking action to restore calm and emphasise the continued need to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We call on the government to consider the underlying causes of violence, including growing material deprivation, and to promote strategies for the development of our country that are inclusive and not based on politics, ethnicity or race. Ultimately, it is the poor and marginalised who will suffer the most, and it is these communities that we most need to protect.

We further implore protestors to express their views in nonviolent ways that support and promote dialogue, and for the media to ensure that it plays a peaceful, rather than polarising role. We also call on community leaders and religious leaders to explore means of dialogue and mediation, and ask each individual citizen to act in the interests of our country as a whole.

Differences of opinion and conflict are inevitable but should not be resolved through violence.