July 19, 2021 Editor

South Africa’s riots are a warning to the world

Ishaan Tharoor

July 18, 2021

photo above: A scene at Chris Hani Mall in the aftermath of the unrest in Vosloorus, Johannesburg, on July 15. (Gulshan Khan for The Washington Post)

WN: Activist theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez puts the issue highlighted below simply thus:

“I hope my life tries to give testimony to the message of the Gospel, above all that God loves the world and loves those who are poorest within it.” (Emphasis added–an emphasis displayed throughout all his publications and long life.)


Every country presents its own studies in contrast, but South Africa offers some of the starkest. The celebrated “rainbow nation,” defined by its generational struggle for racial equality, is the global poster child of economic inequality, where deep poverty sits in the shadow of astronomical wealth. The post-apartheid republic is built on what’s arguably the world’s most liberal and modern constitution, but is also hobbled by age-old problems of corruption, state failure, tribalism and cronyism.

The recent riots in the country’s two most populous provinces reflect, in many aspects, a uniquely South African tragedy. But lurking within the scenes of looting and violence, which saw at least 212 people killed amid the worst unrest since the end of apartheid in 1994, is a broader global parable. What happened in South Africa is what happens when the gross inequality that shapes a whole society boils over. And it’s also what happens when a major political faction and influential leader prioritize their own interests over the integrity of their country’s democracy.

“Who we are is a nation faced by crippling socioeconomic conditions as the economy continues to flounder in this ever-changing global economy,” wrote Ron Derby, editor in chief of the Mail and Guardian newspaper. “This week’s looting under the guise of protests may not be a true reflection of us, but are a harbinger of a world to come,” he added. “The only fear is that our particular brand of politics has no answers to ward it off.”

What happened in South Africa is what happens when the gross inequality that shapes a whole society boils over.

That same issue is being raised in other parts of the world. In recent years, anger over entrenched inequity and the increasing distance between political and corporate elites and the rest of society has convulsed democratic politics from Latin America to Europe to the Middle East. The pandemic has only intensified these tensions, launching new protest movements in places as disparate as Colombia and Thailand. For some commentators, the upheavals expose the underlying fragility of liberal democracies the world over.

Analysts elsewhere have also warned about the toxic, corrosive impact that economic inequality has on a country’s politics and society writ large. “Over the long run, inequality has created a vicious circle,” noted University of Oxford professor Diego Sánchez-Ancochea. “Large income gaps between the poor and the wealthy have been one of the drivers of violence, one of the reasons that Latin America is the region with the highest homicide rate in the world. The violence is concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, creating anxiety and personal insecurity and discouraging inward investment, which might create jobs and improve services.”

Please click on: South Africa’s Riots A Warning

Visits: 85


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.