by EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR
THE looting of businesses and destruction of property in KwaZulu-Natal following the incarceration of ex-president Jacob Zuma left many citizens without basic essentials, in particular bread and milk.
The dominant narrative relating to the general mayhem is that it was an attempted insurrection intended to unseat President Cyril Ramaphosa, though the defence minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula, described it as a ‘counter-revolution’. She has since been replaced by Thandi Modise.
The looting and arson is said to have cost the KwaZulu-Natal economy R20-billion and has placed 150 000 jobs at risk. According to economists, it will take a long time for the economy to recover. Not only was the formal sector affected but also the informal traders, including hawkers. The socio-economic impact is incalculable.
The failure of the police and army to defend the businesses that were being looted and properties that were being destroyed, either due to incompetence or lack of intelligence about the plot, caused citizens to defend themselves and their properties. Some people hired security companies and, in a number of instances, worked hand in hand with the police. Unfortunately, it appears that some young people of Indian origin who were protecting their areas over-reacted and killed a number of Black people in and around Phoenix. This has led to tensions between Indian and Black residents of Phoenix, calls for revenge against Indians and demands for the arrest of the perpetrators.
The murder of over 30 Black people reinforced the perception that Indians are racist. Government officials and leaders of civil society stepped in to calm the situation and managed to prevent a ‘race war’. The arrest of a number of suspects also eased tensions between the communities. If those charged are found guilty, it may assist in restoring the peace but if all or some are not, it is sure to lead to renewed tensions and conflict.
Turning to our topic, a number of Muslim organisations both in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, sprang into action and began to hand out bread and milk, and in some cases, even vegetables in the affected areas, without considerations of race or religion. Recipients were full of praise for Muslims and even those who were not well disposed to Muslims prior to the events had a change of heart and expressed their sincere gratitude. The Muslim response during the crisis has led to a positive image of Islam and Muslims.
While there were many Muslim organisations that came to the ‘rescue’, I will focus on one particular coalition, named Rehop, which is an acronym for ‘Rebuilding for Hope and Prosperity’. This is a coalition of the following seven organisations: Association of Muslim Accountants and Lawyers (Amal); Minara Chamber of Commerce; Awqaf SA; United Ulama Council of South Africa (Uucsa); Growing Hands Enterprise Development; South African Muslim Charitable Trust; Muslims for humanity. Uucsa is to provide guidance and advice from a shariah perspective.
Rehop includes individuals with expertise in the fields of finance, accounting, business, law and humanitarianism. The above-named organisations joined forces to rebuild as well as upskill the lives of Indians and Black fruit and vegetable hawkers in Isipingo, Durban. It was felt that focusing on specific sectors is likely to have greater impact than on several sectors at the same time.
The Rehop initiative has begun to focus on micro-finance, where these hawkers are given either grants or loans to restart their businesses. The Ethekwini Municipality is playing a critical role in the project. The first phase has already been completed and Rehop is now embarking on the next phase.
In the course of time, as more resources become available, the Rehop initiative is expected to expand its operations and provide more assistance to small businesses. Hopefully, this approach to assist poorer sectors of our population will go a long way in promoting social cohesion.
- Discussions With Dangor is a regular column in the print edition of Muslim Views.