Thursday, June 13, 2024

Violence and looting: ‘We fear for our families’

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It is now the sixth day of unrest in South Africa. Photo credit New York Times.

An east Auckland local fears for her family’s safety in South Africa as the country faces its worst unrest in decades.

On June 29, former South African President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court and refusing to testify for alleged corruption. He was then subsequently arrested the following week.

His arrest caused looting and violence in the two most populous provinces.

Botany resident Sharon Viljoen says the South African community within New Zealand has suffered several days of anxiety over the happenings in their native country.

Her parents were located in a caravan park.

When the riots started, Sharon says, her parents were with three other campers, barricaded in with armed guards and AK-47s and stuck there. “Security wouldn’t let them out,” she says. “It wasn’t safe.”

The guards informed them a group was hiding out until nightfall to attack.

Her brother, still in Johannesburg, was visiting a supermarket when a band of looters stormed in.

He had to hide in the shopping centre basement with his family and staff while the supermarket was emptied.

“My parents are safe now,” she says. “They managed to get out. My brother still hears shooting outside his house.”

Sharon isn’t the only South African with worries for her family’s safety. Thousands of South Africans in New Zealand went to social media to express their concerns and anxieties.

Yesterday there was a meeting at 7:00 pm to discuss ideas on how they can help their families in South Africa.

South Africa’s civil unrest has led to little media attention in New Zealand, Sharon says. “People need to understand what’s going on,” she says. “Our families are trying to survive.”

She believes the situation should not be turned into a “black on white issue”.

“It’s affecting everyone,” Sharon says. “It has an effect on the whole country. It’s not a race thing.”

On the sixth day of the unrest, more than 70 people have been killed and more than 1700 have been arrested over the violence. There are food and fuel shortages.

“There is a huge movement of South Africans here trying to help their families,” she says. “There needs to be awareness in New Zealand on what’s happening over there.”

Additionally it was recently announced that “South Africans in New Zealand are banding together to raise awareness of violent riots,” Melody McCabe, Wellington organiser for the event, says.

They will be joining together for a quiet vigil on Monday at midday. One group will be on the steps of parliament to quietly reflect on the family who are in affected areas and to raise awareness.

The video was taken by Sharon’s parents in the aftermath of looting.

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