At the time of writing the riots engulfing Durban and other towns in KwaZulu-Natal, and also present in parts of Gauteng and the Eastern Cape, have the kind of scale and velocity that makes definitive statements unwise. There are sure to be local differences in how things are playing out, and new developments can and will happen at any moment. The full consequences of the decision to send in the army, made just as the article went to press, are not yet clear.
But one thing is: Durban has been engulfed by food riots. New Frame spoke to grassroots activists across the city between 10 and 12 July and without exception every one of them said the riots are about food, not Jacob Zuma. It is food shops that have been consistently targeted, and food that has been appropriated at a massive scale.
Of course, the spark was lit by the displays of impunity and acts of disruption carried out by Zuma supporters, but this was the spark to the tinder. With mass impoverishment, unemployment and hunger, the only surprise is that this did not happen earlier.
The scale of the riots is not the only new development. The protests that have regularly been organized from shack settlements across the country since 2004, and in Durban since 2005, have generally taken the form of road blockades – of disruption rather than appropriation. Now there is popular appropriation of food on an extraordinary scale.
*The views of the above article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Africa Speaks 4 Africa or its editorial team.