Celebrate the wonderful people of this country

The unrest and looting that started on 9 July was appalling, but what a privilege it was to witness the fight-back by South Africans of all walks of life, including farmers, says Peter Hughes.

Celebrate the wonderful people of this country
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The images are not easy to forget: the shocking sight of trucks torched at Mooi River Toll Plaza, some carrying full loads of luxury vehicles; the scenes of public violence, looting and malicious damage to property escalating in KwaZulu-Natal and emerging in Alexandra, Gauteng; and the full-scale riots on Sunday, 11 July, the day on which we should have been celebrating former president Nelson Mandela’s birthday.

Monday brought with it more widespread looting and violence, with unbelievable scenes of people smashing their way into shops and factories, taking whatever they could carry, loading it into waiting vehicles or casually walking away. In five days of looting, more than 3 000 shops, factories and ATMs were totally destroyed.

Even if you’re a hardened optimist, like me, it was enough to drive you into the arms of those people who believe South Africa is doomed and love telling everyone about it.

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And all of this, without any evidence of editorial interference or editing, was screened in full on local TV channels, while the press castigated President Cyril Ramaphosa, his ministers and the police for their lack of response to the rioters. This, surely, was freedom of speech and the press, seldom (if ever) witnessed in Africa. (Consider eSwatini, where the Internet was shut down during recent protests.)

And then we saw those incredible scenes of neighbourhoods mobilising to protect each other. People from all walks of life and of all cultures taking turns to stand side by side at street barriers and patrol their precincts overnight, all speedily and beautifully organised, with everyone knowing exactly when and where they were expected to be, and what was expected of them. Here was an example of great management.

On The Road Again
Who was first out of the blocks to get the country back on its feet? The farmers! Their trucks carrying farm products were very soon back on the road. The biggest export citrus crop ever was soon flowing through the Port of Durban again; milk trucks were catching up with supplies to the dairies, avoiding further sad images of milk being dumped; sugar mills were back working; and abattoirs and meat-processing factories were back on stream in no time at all.

My two sons live in Durban. Images of them involved in day and night patrols and standing at street barriers made me proud. My daughter-in-law, who set up the duty roster for their area, made me proud. And the response from our farmers made me proud. True, in many respects we have a misguided government in place at the moment, but this will pass.

We have a general population of wonderful people who stand side by side when the chips are down, and this will not pass. United in our diversity, the people of South Africa have shown us what strength unity brings to this country. I’ve been cured of my pessimistic funk.

What about you?