Unrest in KwaZulu-Natal has risen from violent protests and looting to full scale civil unrest, with retaliation by communities leading to increased violence by rioters. It may not be too over the top to consider the unrest as bordering on civil war, at least in some areas. It has, at the very least, exposed the fragility of our democracy and society. As such, it is imperative that we work towards ending the riots.
As a disclaimer, I am not a security expert. I do not work in law enforcement or the military. But, I do study a lot of history, including civil unrest from South Africa and around the world. I also analyse policy and politics and my assessments have been constantly vindicated throughout my years as an analyst.
As such, I have a few suggestions for government and South Africa as a whole for ending the riots.
Before I get to the suggestions, there are some crucial facts that need to be outlined.
First, law enforcement and the military are underfunded, undermanned, ill-equipped and undertrained. This is in general, but especially to quell such brutal and encompassing riots. Any strategy which aim is ending the riots cannot rely solely on law enforcement and the military. They simply aren’t equipped to take on such a role.
Second, the riots are far too organised to be simply spontaneous and anarchic. Of course, many of the rioters are just criminal opportunists and perhaps even include some desperate people amongst them. But, the organisation involved to loot on such a large scale requires strategy. And there definitely is some leadership behind the scenes leading the riots, picking targets and ensuring the momentum of the unrest remains unhindered. It is perhaps a criminal, gangster element, but may also be political.
Lastly, in case you still think these riots are just a desperate grab for food by the hungry, then please abandon that notion. These are criminals destroying billions of Rands in property, threatening peoples lives, looting luxuries and torching clinics and vets. They deserve no pity.
With those facts out of the way, these are the policies government needs to adopt to begin ending the riots.
Alleviate Supply Concerns
Prices will rise to address shortages as riots and unrest destroy vital supply lines and block freight and commercial transport. In order to alleviate at least some of the costs on law-abiding individuals (who don’t benefit from stealing), we must not consider price controls.
Historically, price controls result in shortages, market failure and economic collapse. West Germany was in economic ruin during the time of price controls. When they were dropped, the economy recovered almost overnight.
Price controls must be rejected. Prices serve an important role in managing scarcity and sending signals to the market. If they are controlled, we lose a vital tool in ensuring our economic survival.
Rather, the government should be dropping levies, taxes, tolls and VAT on food, fuel and other essentials. At this point, tax is a luxury for a government that is failing to do its job. It can help many more people by dropping tax on these goods so they can become cheaper for consumers who vitally need them. In addition, drop tolls on freight and commercial transport. Cut as many unnecessary expenses on commerce as possible to alleviate supply concerns and costs.
Enable Private Militia
The military and police are stretched too thin and are ill-equipped to actually defend communities across KZN, let alone the country. They cannot be expected to defend every community. For the most part, we are on our own.
As such, condemnation and prosecution of communities and private security defending themselves and their properties must end. Rather, they should be supported and encouraged.
The government should be enabling civilians and private security to defend their communities by lightening gun restrictions and giving increased powers to detain criminals for arrest.
All attempts at increased gun control must end. Rather, legal gun owners should be given reprieve with licensing deadlines and guns taken during amnesty should even be returned. Perhaps, the government must also arm these communities and militia, giving them legitimacy as private militia.
The role of the police in this should be to arrest perpetrators once communities have detained them. Trying to spread out forces across the country will result in police and military presence becoming irrelevant. Rather, aid armed communities who are already doing a good job.
Wars are won with good intel. Law enforcement should be focusing on building intelligence to identify ringleaders and overall strategy to effectively end riots, perhaps even before they start.
To do this, the police need to hire back old intelligence personnel who were fired due to their inconveniencing corrupt politicians. The private sector and foreign allies should also be approached in order to gain intelligence expertise.
The rioters need to be infiltrated to learn their strategy and movements, so law enforcement and communities can learn their plans and targets before they hit.
Importantly, ringleaders, backers and organisers need to be identified so they can be arrested.
Intel can be used to waylay riots and disable leadership, turning an organised horde into a patchwork opportunistic mob.
When major targets are identified, police and the military need to concentrate their forces there. Spreading themselves too thin in order to patrol a wide area will only result in weak and ineffective shows of force that will barely phase rioters rather than scare them.
Instead, when it is known that a major riot is about to happen at a particular strategic location, the police and army must respond in force. While communities can handle opportunists, the police and military must focus their efforts against the large forces and riots that communities cannot handle themselves.
Most importantly, the police and military must concentrate their forces to overwhelm rioters, rather than being overwhelmed themselves. If their forces are concentrated, they can crush the resolve of the rioters. If done repeatedly at strategically chosen battles, many rioters may deem the fight not worth it, and give up.
You don’t have to win every battle, you just have to win those that count. Trying to police every street will end in failure. Choose the battles that you can win and use those victories as a morale booster for the country, while they demoralise the rioters.
Address the Systemic Issues that Caused the Riots in the First Place
Once the riots are contained, we must change policies so that they do not happen again. Strong private security and militia, backed by an effective, intelligence-backed law enforcement will help react to riots, but we need to eliminate rioting altogether.
This, fundamentally, requires the incompetent government to go. We cannot tolerate a government that has been warned about this for decades yet did nothing to prevent it. We need a government that embraces sound policy-making and competent governance.
The officials that failed in their duties must be fired.
We need to embrace a free market to enable economic growth. Rioters aren’t simply looting because they’re hungry; they are much less likely to loot if they had jobs and gainful employment. We need to lessen labour regulations, eliminate untenable business licensing, lower taxes and do whatever it takes to make a safe and easy business environment for local and foreign investors.
Enabling a free market will create employment and generate wealth. With economic growth, looting will not be part of the equation.
But, we must also not ignore that there is a degree of ethnic tension in these riots. The Zulu majority feel under-represented and resent that other ethnicities govern them. To solve this, we need to embrace federalism. Every part of South Africa is very different culturally and they need a local, autonomous leadership that can reflect their political needs. A centralised government cannot address their problems.
Failing federalism, KZN should be granted independence, so it can do what it wants and suffer or succeed on its own.
The responsible, law abiding heroes and community defenders who held the line against chaos and helped in ending the riots should also be applauded. Individuals should be identified as heroes and lauded as national heroes. This will help create a national identity of do-gooders and protectors.
Fundamentally, however, we need to end the cult of personalities, tribalism and corrupt politics that led to this riot. Zuma and his family should not have the power to be able to ignite these riots. The fact that they do is a huge testament to the flaws of this country. Changing political culture can be hard though, but it must be done through education, force of will and agonising reform.
Perhaps, if we embrace freedom, reason and sound decision-making, we won’t have a repeat of this catastrophe ever again.
In Summary: Ending the Riots
- Ensure consumers can afford essentials by dropping or eliminating taxes on fuel and essential goods.
- Embrace and encourage private militias to defend communities. Enable them to do so.
- Use intelligence gathering to inform strategy.
- Concentrate law enforcement and military to tackle large insurrections.
- Discourage future riots by enabling economic growth and decent political institutions.