by NJABULO BUTHELEZI
DURBAN, (CAJ News) – THE latest outbreak of looting is a grave dimension to the deadliest floods ever to ravage South Africa and testament to the heartlessness gripping the country in recent months.
Floods are devastating the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, coincidentally the province that was the epicentre of the worst anarchy post-independence when more than 300 people lost their lives.
Slightly more than a similar number of people have died from recent days of flooding, in what is the worst weather-related crisis to ever batter the Southern African country that has for months been volatile.
As the nation was reeling from the tragedy that has left several thousand homes damaged or destroyed and critical infrastructure impacted, a sad development was building up – looting.
Reminiscent of the looting that hit the country in July last year, devious individuals made the most of the chaos to loot some shops and vehicles devastated by the floods.
The floods and such criminality could not have come at a worse time as businesses were recovering from the unrest that struck the province after the arrest of former president, Jacob Zuma, who hails from KZN.
This week, a multinational retail company, PEP Stores, had its distribution centre in the coastal Durban looted.
In the township of Umlazi, located south-west of Durban, looters helped themselves to goods from trucks and containers stranded in the heavily damaged roads and the ensuing chaos in highways.
A video went viral of a looting spree at a warehouse ravaged by floods in the province.
Similar reports emerged from Prospecton, an industrial suburb located south of Durban.
Leon Lourens, the chief executive officer of Pepkor, PEP’s parent company, stated: “The distribution centre has been temporarily closed to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees and to commence recovery operations.”
Ian Cameron, Director of Community Safety at Action Society South Africa, is wary of the situation spiraling out of control as did the incidents in July last year.
“This can really snowball if not stopped immediately,” he said.
He bemoaned that as was the case when the incidents during the last anarchy started, there was no police presence.
“It also seems municipal disaster management plans aren’t in place,” Cameron said.
The official opposition, Democratic Alliance (DA) is equally worried.
“These images are extremely disturbing,” said Andrew Whitfield, DA Shadow Minister of Police.
“Especially since they are strongly reminiscent of the violence and looting that took place in the same province in July last year.”
Sihle Zikalala, the KZN Premier, said police had since been deployed in affected areas to curtail looting.
He condemned the recent incidents of looting.
“We have deployed police all over, to ensure that such things do not occur,” Zikalala said.
“We will not allow criminals to take advantage of this tragic development in our province,” the premier added.
Zikalala was caught on camera assaulting a looter during last year’s anarchy. The young man was attempting to run off with goods stolen from a nearby warehouse.
The DA blamed corruption for the destruction of low-cost housing during the floods disaster.
Some 4 000 informal dwellings and 2 000 “Breaking New Ground” houses have been destroyed over the course of the past week.
The opposition’s Emma Powell said the damage of the houses was a direct reflection of the incapacity of the dodgy contractors appointed to build these homes by the local Ethekwini municipality run by the ruling African National Congress.
“Despite repeated warnings, the ANC continues to put their cronies first,” Powell said.
Some rows of multi-story houses are built on sandy slopes, apparently with almost no structural integrity.
There is alleged disregard basic architectural and engineering safety standards.
President Cyril Ramaphosa this week was on an assessment mission in the KZN after cutting short his three-day trip to Mozambique.
He was in that terror-prone country in his capacity as the Chairperson of the Southern African Development Community Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
“The most painful effect of these floods is that many lives have been lost, people’s homes have been destroyed, streets, bridges and churches have been destroyed,” he said in KZN.
KZN has been tense lately, with the floods coinciding with the launch of an operation by a movement- Operation Dudula- to drive out illegal immigrants out of South Africa.
Its position on migration is blamed for the burning of a Zimbabwean man north of Johannesburg last week.
This past weekend, the ANC’s Ethekwini region held its elective provincial conference amid hostility among rival factions.
– CAJ News