Jews join Muslims in fighting back against rioters as South Africa burns

In Durban a number of suburbs where Jewish community live were caught in the maelstrom of destruction


2G7H9FF A general view of the burning warehouse after violence erupted following the jailing of former South African President Jacob Zuma, in Durban, South Africa, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

As the dust settles on the violence and destruction that that spread through two South African provinces last week, many local Jews helped get supplies to those in need or donned their overalls to help clean up and rebuild what was destroyed. What looked like the start of a civil war turned out to be an orchestrated attack to destabilise the country. After the week-long mayhem, the situation has mostly returned to calm.

Many Johannesburg and Capetonian Jews have joined communal organisations in raising funds and distributing essentials to their counterparts in KwaZulu-Natal, who were the hardest hit by the rioting.

In Durban (in the KwaZulu-Natal province), a number of suburbs where the under 3,800-strong Jewish community live were caught in the maelstrom of destruction.

Shopping centres — where they shop and owned stores — were trashed and looted, leaving families unable to buy necessities.

Some have lost their livelihoods after their businesses were looted or destroyed.

“For a few nights, we would hear gunshots as we tried to sleep and it felt like it was happening just outside our windows,” said a Durban resident who asked not to be named. “We looked out the window a number of times and saw the looters walking past our house.

“It was terrifying. We didn’t know if we were safe in our homes and we still live in fear.”

Jason Stout, who heads the Community Security Organisation (CSO) in Durban, explained that initially the community was learning what was going on around them from what they saw on television.

“Then we started hearing the gunshots and sirens in our area and seeing things on our doorstep,” he said. “It was like living in a warzone.”

He explained that as soon as they realised what was happening they were called to arms on WhatsApp groups.

“All young men in our suburb came together with baseball bats, sticks, pitchforks and torches and went to join others in the local mosque. We all recognised we had to do what we could to protect our families.”

Jews joined forces with Muslims and other locals in their neighbourhoods to create their own self-protection units to patrol and protect their suburbs.

These makeshift groups built goodwill and camaraderie between people who had been strangers. These groups now seem to be entrenched as the civilians believe they need to protect themselves.

Many in the Durban Jewish community are now talking about making aliyah, while others are determined to rebuild what was destroyed.

Laurence Raff’s company Vukile XX owns 38 shopping centres in South Africa, six of which were looted — two in Gauteng and four in KwaZulu-Natal. At all six, the looting left no stock at all.

Some of their other malls were threatened but were protected by civilians preventing the looters from getting near the malls. Mr Raff was so inspired by this that he is now determined to do what he can to rebuild and uplift local people.

In Johannesburg, the destruction was also widespread but kept far from suburbs where the Jewish community lives. Their fear, however, was widespread due to fake news spreading faster than facts. People heard their malls were being looted, when they weren’t, and that the looters were heading in their general direction, which was also untrue.

While the Jewish community around the country are left feeling vulnerable, the aid for the KZN Jews and all others in need has been overwhelming.

“To date we have received medication, non-perishable items such as flour, tinned foods, oil, pasta, etc. toiletries and personal-hygiene items including adult nappies, sanitary towels, formula, meal replacement etc, medication and kosher meat — all of which has been delivered or handed out,” said Hayley Lieberthal, the media spokesperson for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) KwaZulu-Natal Council.

“We not only helped ourselves, we helped others, and they in turn helped us. Regardless of religion or ethnicity — there was aid,” she said.

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