It was a week of horror and confusion. But now, looking at the timeline of events, it is clear that this was a terrorist attack, an attempted insurrection, planned and executed by disgruntled ANC cadres who were terrified that their looting spree would be coming to an end, and who were determined to bring the country down with them.
* Wednesday night: Jacob Zuma goes to jail.
* Thursday morning: There are sporadic incidents of trucks blocking the toll plazas on the N2 in KwaZulu-Natal. The #FreeZuma campaign begins on social media.
* Thursday afternoon, Thursday night and Friday morning, Durban: The beginning of what seem to be spontaneous protests in KwaMashu and on Umgeni Road (a major highway that cuts through the heart of Durban’s light industry, manufacturing, wholesale and retail hubs). A pattern begins to emerge: small crowds would gather, block the road with rubble and burning tyres, and stone cars. When the Metro police arrive the people scatter and disappear. This becomes the pattern over the next two days: disrupting and leaving, disrupting and leaving – always on key roads that are likely to be used by freight transport and emergency services.
There are no marches, placards or demands, simply classic guerrilla attack-and-run tactics.
During this time there are reports from Phoenix, Durban, of expensive luxury 4x4s arriving loaded with men and tyres. The men disembark, offload the tyres, set up barricades, burn the tyres, stone cars and then leave as soon as the police arrive. It is also during this period that Duduzile Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s daughter, begins to send out social media messages telling people to rise up to defend their ‘president’. This will continue through Saturday.
* Saturday, N3 Toll Plaza: 35 trucks are attacked, looted and burnt. The road – the arterial highway between Johannesburg and Durban – is closed.
* Sunday, Durban: During the day, the skirmishes continue in isolated spots around Durban, mainly Phoenix and the industrial areas around Umgeni Road. Residents in those areas report the constant sound of gunshots, the smell of cordite and of tyres burning.
* Sunday, Johannesburg: There are some isolated incidents of stone-throwing on Saturday night, but by Sunday the roads in the CBD are blocked, there is gridlock. There is unrest on the streets, the same kinds of riots as Durban, centred around Park Station. People are shouting from the rooftops and throwing stones. The JMPD are trying to cope, there is no order to the policing and the JMPD is overrun. During Sunday the SAPS arrive and start firing rubber bullets, but they run out of rubber bullets and are unable to control the crowds. Crowds are looting shops in the CBD, moving during the day into Hillbrow, Berea and Jeppe. The looting has almost become leisurely as the crowds simply ignore the police.
* Sunday night, Monday morning, KZN: The protests have now turned into looting, starting on the streets of the Durban CBD around the beachfront. Roads are strewn with debris, and any store that faces the street has broken windows and has been completely looted. A pattern has begun to emerge once again: a small group of people gather near a shop, usually starting with a bottle store. For around half an hour they gather. It seems as if they are waiting. Then, as if at a signal, a rock is thrown and people start to smash windows and prise open burglar bars and security gates, using crowbars and hammers. By this time a crowd of local residents has gathered. The people who started the riot have melted away, and the community joins in to loot the store. Word spreads quickly and more and more people arrive. Adjacent stores get smashed. Eye-witnesses are adamant that the main looters are local people who live in the vicinity who have joined in once the instigators have smashed the windows or doors. By the time the looting spree is well under way, the original instigators have left.
* Sunday night, Monday morning, Johannesburg: The looting has moved to Soweto. The streets are jammed with people pushing trolleys, cars are driving into shopping centres and loading up on goods. The few police are standing around helplessly, they are unable to intervene and the crowds know that the police are not allowed to shoot them. All the malls are being systematically looted apart from Maponya Mall, where the residents and taxi associations have banded together to protect the mall.
Monday and Monday night, KZN and Johannesburg: The looting has become a free-for-all. According to eyewitnesses, there is a definite beginning to each incident of looting, and in some cases there appears to have been a number of people who were expecting this, as cars are lined up outside malls with people waiting to drive in to load goods into their cars once the windows were smashed. The streets are full of people wheeling trolleys full of looted goods. There is also a difference between what people are taking – the local residents are taking mostly food and clothing, while other groups are turning up in vehicles (apparently even hired bakkies) to remove large stolen goods. From eyewitness reports, it seems that there is an element of organisation around the looting of the larger goods. It is now a combination of opportunism and organised crime.
There are attempts to blow up ATMS and destroy cell towers. Eyewitnesses report gangs of men prying safes out of shop premises and loading them into vehicles. There is a different mood between Johannesburg and Durban – in Durban people loot and run, in Johannesburg, street parties erupt as people openly begin drinking their looted liquor and eating their looted food. According to interviews, very few people in Johannesburg know what the looting is about, they have only a faint idea about Zuma and the Zondo Commission. All they know is that something is happening, and there is an opportunity for them to help themselves. One resident mentions that it is a good thing that schools are closed for the holiday, because otherwise school children would have left their classes and joined in.
In Johannesburg, the SANDF is deployed and as soon as the army arrives at a site the people scatter. While the looters are aware that the police cannot shoot, they are also aware that soldiers use live ammunition. The SANDF fires off into the air and the crowds begin to disperse.
* Tuesday, KZN: The SANDF has not yet arrived in KZN, and the day is marked with more unrest in particular areas. At the Makro, in Springfield Park, thousands of people have arrived from KwaMashu on foot and in vehicles to load up, the roads are clogged with cars waiting to go into Makro and Value Centre. Nandi Drive, which goes through a light industrial hub, is clogged with looters and cars. Every business in the road is attacked and stripped. Eyewitnesses report that there seem to be small groups of people looking on, who appear to be watching while the looting continues. It is possible that they are there to set fire to the buildings once they have been looted, as a number of businesses and shops are set on fire once they have been stripped.
Durban’s three main cold stores are vandalised, looted and set alight, along with their freight vehicles. These cold stores contain millions of rands worth of perishable food that had been destined for markets inland.
The suburb of Reservoir Hills, for some reason, has been hit really hard, with businesses, mosques and private homes coming under attack. It is possible that the intent was to create a race war between blacks and Indians.
* Tuesday, KZN: The unrest has now spread to Pietermaritzburg and smaller towns in KZN, starting with malls and spreading into the CBD. Several smaller towns are completely trashed.
* Wednesday: By now, civil society in KZN and Gauteng has realised that the police and army cannot help them, and they have mobilised, forming barricades on street corners and community watch patrols. Citizens form shields around remaining shops and businesses to prevent looting. There are still sporadic attacks on isolated businesses and shops. Some mosques and schools are burnt. Water treatment plants in Pietermaritzburg are set on fire. A community radio station in Johannesburg is attacked, looted and destroyed. Attempts are made to attack installations in the harbour and electrical substations.
* Thursday: The army is deployed now in both KZN and Gauteng, and the unrest dies down. The government announces arrests. More than 200 people are dead, mainly from being trampled in looting stampedes, and the initial estimates of the direct damage is R15 billion. The long-term cost to our economy is incalculable.