Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|July 14, 2021|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Why burn down your house to flush out a rat?

African proverbs; they cut through the nonsense of this earth, they clarify and capture. I love them like a man tossed into the sea loves a lifeboat.

It is with growing sadness that I have watched South Africa tear itself apart in violent and terrifying fashion- the deadliest days in the country since the dawn of democracy.

Burning and looting, from Durban to Diepsloot in Soweto, has torn the heart out of a fragile economy reeling from COVID-19 and years of decline. It makes you wonder whether the economic powerhouse of sub-Saharan Africa – with its robust infrastructure – will ever recover from this costly act of self-mutilation.

Scores of people have died, probably tens of thousands have lost their jobs have been lost in a land where nearly half of the country is unemployed; add to this tough economic conditions and COVID-19 lockdowns. Clearly, South Africa has its problems but as an Africa proverb has it: “Don’t cut your nose because it has mucus, or your intestines because you have diarrhoea.”

Billionaire Tomorrow laments the number of hard-working entrepreneurs who woke up to their businesses looted, at best, a smoking ruin at worst. It is a sad and appalling waste of African effort that will haunt the future like a ghost at a feast. How many entrepreneurs are going to rebuild after all that has happened? Where does this destruction leave brave new projects to lift people out of poverty, like the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Even more disturbing, according to journalists I know who have been running the streets on this story, say it is tantamount to economic sabotage. The targets are power lines, supply chains and supermarkets – the chain that feeds South Africa.

The reasons for the trail of destruction appear to be many including politics. The main reason is said to be the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court. He complains that he was incarcerated without trial, but the Constitutional Court – the highest in the land- gave him all the time in the world to present his case.

The upholding of the law, in this case, gave foreign investors more confidence that South Africa was serious about governance and up hold other rules – like property rights.

Whatever the reason, there came forth the backlash of death, fire and destruction. It breaks my heart and leads me to the Africa proverb: “Don’t burn your house in order to flush out a rat.”

If ever there was a truth; even more so when I think back on my years of covering politics. The rats usually survive, come what may.

“No one is coming to save us. We are all we have. We must rise and take responsibility,” says one of the community leaders on the streets to Johannesburg this week. The journalist who relayed this one to me this week almost cried when he heard the words.

In this vein, people have been risking their lives to stand up to the mobs of looters and thugs. They formed circles around their shops and employers to protect their livelihood and jobs. This is the kind of courage and leadership that the people who run the country appear to lack. An act of bravery in the worst of times.

I will leave you with another Africa proverb that needs no explanation.

“When brothers fight, their enemies harvest their inheritance.”