Jean-Jacques Cornish

President Cyril Ramaphosa resists calls to declare a state of emergency

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This article appeared on RFI English

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is resisting calls to declare a state of emergency as the nation counts the cost of days of looting and violence.

Former National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli is the latest high profile figure to call for a such a declaration after looters, operating with impunity against outnumbered police,  stripped bare the shelves of stores in the coastal province of KwaZulu/Natal and the commercial heartland of Gauteng.

At least 73 people have died in the violence that has cost an estimated two billion rands.

Police have made 1200 arrests.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says a state of emergency will be declared should the need arise.

2500 of her troops have been drafted in to help police.

Carrying assault rifles loaded with sharp point ammunition, they have stopped looters who minutes earlier were taunting police armed with teargas and rubber bullets.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, visting the ruins of a mall in Alexandra, which neighbors salubrious Sandton, says the emphasis now has to be on preventing further anarchy.

“It would have been better had this not happened,” he said pointing to the burned out shops, “but the fact that it did does not mean we cannot prevent it happening again.”

The looting was initially ascribed to protests against the jailing last week of ex-President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.

Ramaphosa has condemned the exploitation of ethnic differences with Zuma’s Zulu tribe in KwaZulu/Natal

Analysts and community leaders, however, say the anarchy is spread by the desperation of people facing unemployment and grinding poverty exacerbated by the COVID pandemic lockdown and by rampant criminality as people realize they can grab what they want without consequences.

Cele says the authorities have identified a dozen people who have exploited this and used social media to instigate violence snd disorder.

State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo says they are investigating a sinister third force of former state security agents loyal to Zuma using their insider knowledge to stoke the flames of unrest.

Traffic along the arterial highway between Johannesburg and Durban has been stopped for a week. At least 40 trucks have been torched and used to block the road.

This means that the stores stripped by the looters will take weeks to resupply once the trucks are able to move.

The break in the supply chain has also affected the COVID vaccination programme that began hesitantly and late in the African country worst his by the pandemic.

Fear of the violence has closed the SAPREF petrol refinery that supplies a third of South Africa’s fuel.

Motorists have began queuing to fill their vehicles.

Ramaphosa will meet political leaders today, seeking bipartisan support against the anarchy.

He met with business leaders yesterday and with the State Security Council.

Communities are stepping up to protect their neighborhoods and shopping malls.

Armed private security firms in the wealthier neighborhoods have thus far managed to ensure that malls under their protection are not among the 200 that have been gutted.

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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.