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OPINION: The long walk just got longer

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The rampant looting, destruction and mayhem will have serious knock-on effects for a long time to come, writes Lance Fredericks.

People looting a shopping centre in Katlehong. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

IT IS HARD to describe how it felt to read a couple of paragraphs on the South African government’s website recently.

“In July, South Africa celebrates former President Nelson Mandela’s birthday. July 18 has been declared Nelson Mandela International Day, but as South Africans we embrace the chance to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life for the whole of July.

“This gives everyone the opportunity to heed the call to action for people to recognise their individual power to make an imprint and change the world around them.”

The very next paragraph says: “A global movement for positive change begins with small actions. As each person acts, they fuel momentum toward positive change, raising awareness and expanding the reach of Mr Mandela’s values – fighting injustice, helping people in need and practicing reconciliation.”

Obviously my thoughts turned to what has been happening in our country thus far in July. Our people’s “small actions” in just the little things like taking precautions against the spread of the coronavirus in the midst of a still-rising third wave has been alarmingly lacking.

Then, addressing the elephant in the room, I thought of the rampant looting, destruction and mayhem that has turned this July into a month that will have serious knock-on effects for a long time to come.

Our country now, roughly three decades since Mr Mandela was released from prison, is facing what I estimate to be its biggest crisis, economically and our very stability.

I was gobsmacked when I saw looters being interviewed on television the other night. One young man was wild-eyed and angry. He made it very clear why he was causing havoc. “We want Zuma freed,” he said. “This will go on until Mr Zuma is let out of jail. I don’t care! They can send the army, I don’t care! They must release Zuma then this will stop!”

I tried to piece together in my head what malls, warehouses, trucks and other businesses had to do with our former president having to spend 15 months behind bars. Why is the country’s economy being destroyed when this supporter claims that they are angry with the judicial system? And if we buckle to these bullying tactics today, how much worse will it get in future when the bullies learn that they can get their way if they are destructive enough?

Another looter’s views had me light-headed and grasping for my sanity.

“Well, you see,” he explained with a calm, relaxed tone in his voice, “I am unemployed, but I have a job interview lined up. I can tell you one thing though – I have never done anything like this in my life, but this (looting) has been such a liberating experience for me. I feel so free and so joyful, I cannot describe it!”

This from someone who is looking for employment. What employer would knowingly hire a looter? And if this young man hides the fact that he is a looter during the interview, then the company unknowingly will be employing a lying looter.

But what did we expect to happen when food parcels are distributed ahead of an election, and the promises are not honoured afterwards? Did those who distributed the goods not think that people would start to believe that getting “things” was the best they could hope for.

And this week it’s as if frustrations boiled over and people went out in numbers to “get things”.

Hopefully, if it’s not too late, this can be a wake-up call for those who have been enjoying the perks of their position instead of focusing on the obligations of their office … I pray that it’s not too late.

On Sunday this country celebrates former president Nelson Mandela’s birthday. And it would serve us well to consider what Mandela said at his trial before his decades-long imprisonment.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Imagine if more South Africans were prepared to make any kind of sacrifice for their fellow man instead of sacrificing their fellow man for their own selfish ends. Would that not be something?