Sherry, samoosas and safeguarding the suburbs
YOGIN DEVAN Devan is a media consultant and social commentator.
WITH the words Udokotela Wamazinyo emblazoned on the road-facing window of his surgery, Sid Reddy ran a dental practice mainly for the poor in semirural Mariannhill, west of Durban, for more than 35 years. Patients came from near and far – not only because this was the only dental surgery in the vicinity but also because there was a long relationship with the kind and affable Dr Reddy whose fees belonged to a long-gone era. He charged R200 for a normal tooth extraction whereas the medical rate is upward of R500. And he would include painkillers, or even an antibiotic if there was infection, in the deal. Last week, Dr Reddy walked on the debris of his charred consulting room which he considered as sacred, for it afforded him the opportunity to engage in charity and philanthropy among people he had come to love. “Everything is gone. All the dental equipment and furniture have been stolen or smashed to bits. Even the God lamp that was given by my late mother has been taken,” he said, adding that the entire shopping complex where his surgery was located had been razed. Kuben Moodley has had a pharmacy in Wyebank for more than two decades and served a large rural area bordering the KwaDabeka township. With those in rural areas experiencing more chronic health issues such as diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and asthma, he provided an essential service and was popular for the advice that he warmly offered. At 4am on July 12, the pharmacy was vandalised and looted. So too was the consulting room of Dr Leslie Ramiah, the only general practitioner serving a vast area. “I arrived while the looters were still busy and appealed to them not to take certain scheduled drugs which could be dangerous in the wrong hands. My pleas fell on deaf ears. The irony is that many of the looters’ families relied on the pharmacy and will now have to travel far for medical supplies and basic clinic services,” said Moodley. Jayce and Venessa Pillay hail from a pioneering Wyebank family. They owned one of the largest hardware businesses in the area, supplying building materials for formal and informal structures. More than that, they provided employment to scores of workers and came to be known as guardian angels in the surrounding communities. They offered free maths lessons from their home and business premises; they donated computers to the school and library; they supported local clubs; they helped students with university applications; they printed employment documents for free; girls were trained for job interviews; and women were given free lessons in floral arrangement. In return for their benevolence, their business was looted. If that was not bad enough, the building was reduced to ashes. The unrest has clearly demonstrated that society has not embraced constitutional democracy and the rule of law. The sacrifices of many who selflessly fought for a democratic order went up in the flames of torched shopping malls and goods warehouses. For a democracy to endure, it must exist in the consciousness of society, and the concept of the rule of law must safeguard that democracy through adherence by all strata of society. Nobody – not even JZ – is above the law. When senior politicians are being investigated for rampant theft of public funds and corruption, what role model does the citizenry have? If only we could palpably observe the stealing by civil servants, it would probably mirror the violent, rampant and ruthless robbery seen during the unrest. Folk in the townships know about government corruption and this has probably also served to justify violent looting, spurred by hunger pangs and joblessness. The law of karma has certainly ensured that the state got its comeuppance with the orgy of violence and plunder. The unrest also showed that our Gradgrindian education has failed us. It has tended to have a soulless devotion to facts and figures and largely ignored civic character formation. It is opportune to re-examine our education system lest we continue churning out miscreants that damage, rather than build, society. It is not the function of the state to exact obedience but in the collective conscience of society, social institutions such as the family, schools, religious bodies and the workplace must instil a shared consciousness that South Africa is a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law. The rainbow nation is sitting on a powder keg. Everything must be done to ensure the fuse is not lit. There must be more effort put in to decrease illiteracy and to create decent jobs. One clear gain from the unrest is that those who are law-abiding became a united force, with no consideration of skin colour, age, class, gender or religion. With police and the army so thin on the ground that they were powerless to push back the attacking crowds, it fell upon members of community police forums, vigilante groups and private security firms to become the public protectors with their shotguns, hockey sticks and sjamboks. In the winter chill of successive nights, warm bonds formed over paper cups of sherry or coffee, Fishermans Friend menthol lozenges and spicy samoosas, and this can only bode well for the continuing safeguarding of suburbs in the future. The unrest has understandably got people angry. They are upset that those they had fed daily during the Covid-19 lockdowns, turned into criminals and looted and burnt. They have vowed not to again donate on compassionate grounds. While rebuilding damaged infrastructure is vital to the economy, it is also important to promote reconciliation and respect for law and order. The threat of encroachment has brought latent prejudices to the fore. This must be eradicated from the national psyche. There is no need to pack for Perth, yet. Not enough has been done to build bridges and escalate social cohesion. The unrest has perhaps been a necessary test of our relatively young democracy and of the rule of law. South Africa is a beautiful country – and always will be. We have faced calamities before – and overcame the challenges by pulling together for the common good. The dark clouds will soon lift and the sun will shine again. Theodore Roosevelt summed it up well: “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”