Jean-Jacques Cornish

Note from a frightened mlungu

For more than 24 hours I have watched scenes I did not believe possible.

Thousands of people looting with impunity in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg.

Police, under equip and outnumbered, have been reduced to spectators.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is obliged to draft the military in to help try to contain the anarchy.

The destruction and lawlessness by black South Africans apparently unconcerned about being stopped let alone apprehended brings to mind the apartheid-era fears of their white counterparts that they will leave their country of birth on the first available flight with nothing but their pajamas.

The looting continues as Ramaphosa addresses the nation. Indeed, it is shown in a little window on his television backdrop, giving the lie to his assertion: “this is not us!”

The looting was initially ascribed to “righteous anger” about the incarceration of disgraced ex-President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.

It soon becomes clear that it is about much more. There are ethnic tensions involving the Zulus. There is the desperation of people rendered jobless and hungry by the protracted COVID pandemic lockdown. But most of all there is enthusiastic criminality embracing an opportunity to grab something for nothing.

With television covering moving to and fro from KwaZulu/Natal to Gauteng the anarchy seems to have become terrifyingly unstoppable.  

Ramaphosa does nothing to alay those fears.

His assertion that the looters will face the full might of the law rings hollow.

South Africans who eschewed revenge for apartheid to build a greater peace are revealed to be as venal and short-sighted as their fellow Africans.

They no longer have a  claim to the moral hight ground.

This morning Police Minister Bheki Cele, who was invisible yesterday, briefs the media.

He speaks of more than 700 arrests and a death toll approaching 50.

Incredibly he advises South Africans to sanitize and regularly wash their hands.

This is a reference to the pandemic and the fact that the violence and the looting and destruction of trucks traveling between Johannesburg and Durban has stopped the already botched and tardy vaccination programme in many centers.

Again, his briefing takes place against the backdrop of persistent looting in both KwaZulu/Natal and Johannesburg.

It is briefly stopped in Alexandra around lunchtime by the arrival of a few dozen of the 2500 troops dragooned into restoring order.

The mob that was minutes earlier taunting police runs from the soldiers who carry neither teargas nor rubber bullets. Their assault rifles are loaded with sharp point ammunition.

Visibly shocked as the destruction he sees after looters have stripped a shopping mall in Alexandra, within sight of salubrious Sandton, Cele says the emphasis must now be on prevention. Flanked by both police and army brass, the minister says: “It is better that this did not happen. But just because it did does not mean that it cannot be prevented from happening again.” Cele says police are investigating a dozen people believed to be instigators of the looting.

Are we meant to be reassured?

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.