Poverty is not to blame for looting, a lack of values is

Ideas

Poverty is not to blame for looting, a lack of values is

The breakdown of norms, rules and values happens at home and at school. Reversing it starts with us

Columnist

First, there is the good news. The storm will subside. We will reset as if nothing happened. That is the bad news. We will move on and not deal with the underlying causes of this massive stress test of our democratic state. Until it happens again, we anguish, and then we forget, again. I asked friends living in the UK what they remember about Britain’s 2011 urban riots that their newspapers then described as “a defining contest between order and disorder” and a future prime minister observed as “disorder on a scale not seen in this country for many, many years”. None of my UK friends remember those devastating riots. Bad news.

We are in an intense search to make meaning out of the explosion of community violence and wholesale looting in especially the richest (Gauteng) and most densely populated provinces (Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal). The explanations given are breathtaking in their range — tribalism, terrorism, poverty, inequality, unemployment, pandemic stress and more. No doubt, there is some truth in all of these attempts at sense-making and even less comfort in a conclusion gaining ground among political commentators — a failed state.

There can be no question that three of our most important institutions have failed us in the crisis — the police, the army and intelligence. The slow and uneven response to the catastrophes across these critical agencies speaks of a government that is divided in its loyalties to imprisoned former president Jacob Zuma and ambivalent about using the full force of the state to suppress this revolt against acceptable social norms, rules and values...

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