After a 24-hour orgy of violence, I sit alone in my whale-watching room and reflect as I read the many messages that have been sent to me by an informal network. I pause to gather my thoughts before the new day dawns. What will that new sunrise bring?

We now sit with a stark reality that everyone has to deal with, so let me distil, at least for my own use, the essence of what our next faltering steps will be.

The firestorm of violence that engulfed us on Monday was no surprise. We have seen all the warning signs, and were even sent clear unambiguous messages of what was to hit us on Monday morning. Few took heed, and many even dispelled these messages as being the usual drivel from the EFF.

Well, they weren’t. In fact the EFF was nowhere to be seen in the day of mayhem. But neither were any elected leaders, or the security forces they command. The Man in the Hat became invisible, just like his police force, who ran out of ammunition where they were present, and had to be resupplied by civilian networks.

Yes, this is true. A private security contractor had to procure front-line ammunition for the embattled police force, because they had run out early in the day. So let us unpack this single observation, so that we can learn from it.

We have a leadership vacuum in the country. People in leadership positions, like the Man in the Hat, are there only because of political connections, and not because they have the core skills to do the job. The same is true of the bloated civil service they command, with too many generals, all unable to plan for, and procure, the stuff that’s really needed. Like ammunition.

That same leadership vacuum is present in our intelligence service. If I could collect credible information through my informal network, without any resources at my disposal, and then make reasonably accurate forecasts about what to expect, then why can’t they with their bloated staff complement and billion rand budget squandered on inappropriate procurement and self-enrichment schemes?

Today it’s gone

Which brings me back to the core issue – supply-chain management. The mayhem of the last few days has wiped out our supply chain in KZN. Last week it was there, but today it’s gone. That complex web of transactions that moves goods across the landscape, like an army of ants on a single-minded mission, each moving their package relentlessly throughout the colony of ants, is now gone.

So as the day dawns I can reliably predict that we will rapidly start to encounter shortages of crucial goods like fuel for motor vehicles, food for hungry stomachs, medication for the sick, cash to grease the wheels of trade and spare parts to keep the machinery of commerce going.

ATMs are gone, so we will rapidly run out of cash. Grocery stores have been destroyed, so even if they can procure goods from the warehouses now burned to the ground, they will be unable to transact because the tills are gone and the point of payment card machines destroyed. The retail malls have been so destroyed that it will take months to rebuild them. More importantly, the Clicks and Dischem pharmacy chains that are the most efficient delivery vehicles for the national vaccine roll-out, are simply no more in key areas.

I therefore predict an acute shortage of fuel, food and medication. These three things will hit almost everyone, and very soon.

This is my first prediction, about which I have great confidence – enough to make a public statement for which I will gladly be held accountable.

But what about the leadership issue? How might this unfold in the days to come?

What I witnessed over the past 48 hours tells us a lot, so let me distil the essence. In the beginning the mob was in control. Yes, they were clearly in control as they marched relentlessly forward like an army-ant formation advancing through the jungle. They devoured all before them and they were unstoppable. But, importantly, they were controlled and focused. There was a clearly defined plan, so command and control is alive and well, but invisible. They knew when to hit designated targets. They knew where the police were absent. They knew where shopping mall security was most vulnerable. They were collectively acting as part of a plan.

Who are those central but invisible command-and-control people? Will our intelligence services possibly start to figure this out?


But the other thing that was clearly visible was how rapidly civil society responded to the communal threat. Groups of citizens rapidly formed into militia, and mostly acted with restraint and to great effect. I don’t know the final numbers, but my gut feel is that more arrests were made by citizens acting in well-organised groups than by the police.

I also note that some of the militia went beyond the act of arrest, and meted out instantaneous justice. It’s unclear what the body count is, but certainly there were many. Some shot, some beaten and some even hacked to pieces by machete. I have seen credible video evidence across this entire range.

But the core lesson is that civil society responded by organising themselves, rapidly and effectively. We will now see the dawn of a new era, where those civil groups become better organised than the government, which has clearly failed. In effect we had no government over the past 48 hours, because while this mayhem was playing out, Jessie Duarte gave a press briefing about an NEC meeting, pretending to still be in control.

The ruling party has simply lost control. The civil service is so dysfunctional as to be a liability now easily bypassed by an increasingly confident and effective civil society.

Clearly, attempts by government to disarm civilians will fail. Of this I am certain – just as certain as I am about the emergence of self-organised militia centred on credible leadership and existing networks of security force personnel sidelined in government purges.

This is the real new dawn – not the feeble message spewed out by the now embattled and increasingly illegitimate ruling party. Their days are numbered.

Will we now see the emergence of an invigorated ‘moderate middle’, united by core values but free of the shackles of past prejudice and racially defined bias?

Relentless waves

Or will the rabble rise in a boiling froth of anger, purging the ruling elite with vengeance, just as past revolutions ultimately consumed themselves with relentless waves of counter-revolution?

We live in profoundly uncertain times, but the vibrancy of civil society has been clearly demonstrated, as loose molecules came together to form militia capable of clawing back control in the vacuum left by an incompetent ruling elite whose time is nearly over.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Dr Anthony Turton is Professor at the Centre for Environmental Management, University of Free State; Africa editor of Water Policy, the official journal of the World Water Council; a director of Janigraph (Pty) Ltd and of Nanodyn Systems (Pty) Ltd; a strategist for Water Shortage South Africa NPC; and the founding member of South African Water Chamber (NPC). He is a recipient of the Nick Steele Memorial Award (South African Environmentalist of the Year) 2010; the Green Globe Award (Environmental Activist of the Year) 2012; and the WESSA Award (Lifetime Conservation Achiever) 2016. He is a former intelligence officer.