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The Jewish Report Editorial

Madness takes its toll

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This week, the words of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, “…madness takes its toll” keep playing in my head. We are living through what feels like a surreal and devasting time. In truth, it’s a time of national shame.

It seems fitting that this weekend is Tisha B’Av, when we remember the destruction of the temple and so many other losses.

Not only are we in level 4 lockdown and our COVID-19 numbers are still soaring, but an uprising has spread through the country. People have the right to protest, but they don’t have the right to destroy property, loot, and steal.

I don’t believe this is all about Jacob Zuma being incarcerated, but I do believe it’s a multipronged problem that has been building up. And while I believe that poverty is a major part of the problem right now, there is also lawlessness because you cannot eat a television set or a cell phone. However, there are so many people starving, and about 75% of young adults are unemployed. This has to be addressed.

It’s easy to expect the government to wave a magic wand, but that isn’t going to happen in the midst of a pandemic that’s sweeping through this country. And so, I understand why there is a feeling of despondence.

However, trashing malls and businesses is hardly going to provide jobs or feed the poor. Instead, it destroys already stressed livelihoods and creates much more unemployment.

Like most of you, I have had messages from former South Africans abroad asking if we are okay because they are watching what’s happening on the news. It clearly looks horrific, and it is, what with more than 75 killed and many more injured. Also businesses and malls have been gutted, as have homes and vehicles.

But looking out from my suburban window, I see only calm and quiet. Such is the dichotomy of our country. However, our community in KwaZulu-Natal is having a tough time, and we don’t know exactly what will happen.

This and so much fake news disseminated on social media has led to dread and fear. The number of malls that were trashed (fictitiously) in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg really got to people. There were videos of destruction that were years old, and some weren’t even from South Africa. You have probably read it or watched it and believed it until someone hopefully told you otherwise.

And, much like when we first experienced lockdown, fear and panic has led to the mass buying of food and petrol just in case… The problem is that while we don’t lack essential items right now in Gauteng, we may do if people don’t stop buying what they don’t need en masse.

As we have witnessed fear buying before, we have also witnessed the country in flames before.

Just recently, we commemorated the national youth uprising on 16 June 1974, which was a horrific time in South Africa. The country also appeared to be on the brink of civil war after the death of Chris Hani in April 1993. And, if you think back to round about this time last year in the United States, the mayhem that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers wasn’t dissimilar.

It definitely makes it much harder to deal with this as our country still feels the onslaught of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which so many people have fallen ill and died. It’s a double whammy – or a war on two fronts.

However, we’re not facing the end of our country or a war. Yes, the government has to take this in hand, and our president is trying hard to do this. The situation is extremely volatile and needs to be handled carefully. But handled, it will be.

This isn’t a time to look at everything that’s happening as the end. It isn’t. This, too, shall pass.

In fact, we were in a strangely worse situation when our former president, Jacob Zuma, was in charge with his and his cronies’ proverbial hands in the national coffers. They clearly set a horrible example for what’s happening now.

The big difference is that now we have national leaders who are trying to stop this. Then, it was almost impossible to take on the country’s leadership.

Right now, there has to be hope when you see communities forming to defend shopping centres and buildings in their areas. You see people coming out in droves to help fix those premises and business that were destroyed.

I’m astonished at the goodwill that’s coming from our community and the majority of people in this country. I do have a sense of people feeling real shame about what has happened and continues to happen.

It’s so clear that the majority of South Africans aren’t behind the trouble. Most of us are peace loving people who want to lead honest, good lives. A small number have caused this, and the full might of the law must be brought to deal with them. We need to work out exactly what was behind this uprising, though, because that’s the only way to move forward.

I know that people are feeling despondent and scared, but I’m hopeful that, with most of us wanting the same thing, we’ll get it. We’ll find a way to rebuild our economy, give jobs to the jobless, and be proud of our country once again.

As our wise Rabbi Eitan Ash said in a video this week, “South Africa is a miraculous country” and “We always come through”. He added: “I am not saying it isn’t tough, it’s so tough, but if ever there is a time to be strong and positive, it’s now.”

I couldn’t agree more. We need to be calm, work together as a community, and help do what needs to be done. We need to stay focused on being positive and uplifting those around us.

With Mandela Day on Sunday, it seems fitting to end with a quote from Madiba: “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dream of.”

May our country be blessed with peace and prosperity!

Shabbat Shalom!

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