The Zuma riots

David Bullard on the "spontaneous outburst of emotion" across KZN, that was anything but


“The failing economy has left half the population living in poverty and prompted mass protests, demanding the removal of a political elite accused of corruption and negligence”.

That short quote was from a BBC website story on the complete failure of the power grid in Lebanon. Up until recently the people of Lebanon have been reduced to only two hours of electricity per day but now that the entire economy has collapsed nobody wants to sell them diesel to run their two major power stations without seeing the money up front. This could be a chilling warning of what may happen here if we don’t get our act together soon.

In fact there are many chilling warnings of what may await us if we study Lebanon. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Lebanon was known as the ‘Switzerland of the East’ because of its robust and diversified economy which included tourism, commerce and banking. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to taste Ch Musar can also testify that Lebanon is no slouch when it comes to producing world class wines.

Tourism to Beirut boomed in the sixties and seventies and the city laid claim (along with quite a few other envious capitals) to the title ‘The Paris of the East’. Then came the civil war in 1975 which divided Beirut with the Muslim faction in the west part of the city and the Christians in the East.

Much of the city’s cultural and commercial area became a no man’s land and the effects on the economy were disastrous. It was estimated that there was an exodus of around one million people from Lebanon as a result of the war.

The majority of these would have been well educated and qualified professionals who possessed transferable skills that were welcome in other parts of the world such as South Africa. Ever since Beirut has been a consistent trouble-spot and disaster zone.

Last August’s huge explosion in the port area killed 78 people and did massive damage to surrounding buildings and infrastructure. Damage that the Lebanese government is too broke to repair. The explosion was allegedly caused by the igniting of 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate which had been stored in an unsecured warehouse for years.

So, whether it’s ongoing warfare or government negligence, the unfortunate residents of Lebanon probably rank as some of the most unfortunate people in the world. A sharp contrast with how things were barely half a century ago.

Short history lesson on Lebanon and gloomy comparisons aside though, isn’t it interesting that the protesting masses in that beleaguered country are “demanding the removal of a political elite accused of corruption and negligence”?

That is clearly where we differ. Our violently protesting masses are demanding quite the opposite - the removal of a corrupt and negligent politician from prison.

As somebody who sometimes struggles to keep a log fire going during the winter months I marvel that anyone can apply a match to an entire truck and then stand back and watch the flames. The car transporter must have posed special challenges but there it was on social media, blazing away nicely with all the luxury vehicles due for delivery this week also in flames.

Depending on what press report you believe there were about thirty huge trucks burnt out at the Mooi River Toll Plaza. All of which suggests that this was not a spontaneous outburst of emotion at the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma but a well-planned operation designed to destabilize KZN and possibly the whole of South Africa.

As Lady Bracknell might have said ‘to lose one truck to fire may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose thirty suggests a lot of petrol was sloshing about’.

In addition to the burning trucks there was also a fair amount of looting reported with the result that a lot of businesses closed their doors and are understandably wary about opening. If you’re a member of the Radical Economic Transformation fraternity then you can congratulate yourself on a job well done because you’ve certainly transformed your economy almost overnight.

The result will be fewer jobs, fewer investors in KZN, fewer goods being transported through KZN and the death of the tourism and hospitality industries. Quite what the RET supporters plan to replace all this with is a little uncertain although I imagine looting of shops will be a popular alternative to conventional shopping until stocks of food and essential items run out. Anyone willing to drive down to Durban with new stock? No, I thought not.

At the time of writing the ‘pro-Zuma’ riots have spread to Johannesburg with the police telling people to avoid the inner city which has become a no-go area. Parts of the M2 motorway were blocked with burning tyres and rocks, shops in Jeppestown were looted and cars were torched while shots were being fired at the police and at passing vehicles.

While this presents a huge challenge for the police one cannot help wondering whether the response has been quite as forceful as required. Anyone with nothing better to do over the weekend than set light to a car or partake in a bit of looting will obviously not be deterred if there’s a good chance of getting away with it. And judging by early reports that appears to be the case. Sure, there have been some arrests but there has been no great show of force by the authorities who have been more reactive than proactive.

It probably didn’t help that Pres Frogboiler told the NEC with regard to the imprisoning of Zuma that ‘we must be sensitive to people’s pain’. That doesn’t send a very strong message to the truck burners and the looters that they have much to fear.

As more parts of the country go up in flames I suspect that COVID will soon become the least of our worries and the country will become increasingly ungovernable. Can you even begin to imagine what’s going to happen if Ace gets a prison sentence? ___STEADY_PAYWALL___


My fellow columnist Andrew Donaldson beat me to it but I was also fascinated to see some of those ‘protesting’ outside Nkandla last Sunday carrying beautifully printed signs (no scruffy message scrawled on the lid of a cardboard box for them) demanding the land that was stolen 573 years ago. I immediately fired off a WhatsApp to Jeremy Gordin giving him the good news that whitey was finally off the hook because some other thieving bugger had stolen this poor chap’s land way back in 1448.

What was most impressive was the historical precision displayed by this proud Zulu. For many Europeans distant history is a bit hazy although Wikipedia does reveal that Albania beat Venice at the little known battle of Oronichea in 1448 but they patched things up after a few months after which Albania was hardly ever heard of again.

Other than that the year 1448 was a bit vague but not so for the Zulu nation who, if it came to a court hearing, could provide firm evidence that it was in 1448 precisely that their land was stolen by a person or persons unknown and could they have it back please.

Of course, there is also the possibility that some anti-Zuma ne’er do wells distributed these freshly printed signs to semi literate protesters knowing that it would damage their credibility. South African politics can get really ugly at times.


When I first visited Sydney way back in 1987 I thought it a good idea to acquaint myself with some of the linguistic features of the country and so I purchased the Penguin Guide to Aussie Slang which proved invaluable. It contained both words and phrases in common use down under and one of my favourites to describe somebody who is clearly unable to fulfill the requirements of his job is the colourful “he couldn’t pull a greasy stick out of a dead dingo’s arse”. How many South African politicians could that apply to?

Another great word which I’ve always loved is ‘wowser’. It describes someone who regards himself as morally superior and who seeks to deprive others of thoughts or behaviour deemed to be ‘problematic’.

It’s a word that perfectly describes the woke teachers at an Edinburgh High School who have refused to teach the classic American novels To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men because they send a ‘dated’ view of racism to the reader and use the dreaded ‘N’ word.

So rather than let the pupils make up their own minds about that, the teachers have taken it upon themselves to protect their charges and direct them towards more suitable reading such as ‘The hate U give’ by a virtually unknown author.

Presumably next for the chop will be Jane Austen for glorifying a white privileged lifestyle or Charles Dickens for not being more empathetic towards the downtrodden criminal classes in Oliver Twist.