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Patriotic South Africans take to social media to rebuild after looting

Read time 5min 20sec
Photo credit: Rebuild SA, via Facebook.
Photo credit: Rebuild SA, via Facebook.

While social media has been notorious for being used as a weapon to incite violence and orchestrate the ongoing unrest, South Africans are turning to various online platforms as a means to contain the violence and help rebuild the country.

Other helpful responses to #UnrestSA

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Several online campaigns have been established in efforts to help curb the unrest, and clean-up and rebuild the towns, townships, shopping facilities and businesses that have been destroyed during the violence and looting taking place across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng this week.

The violence, initially sparked by the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, escalated into days of chaos, with shopping malls, warehouses and other properties being looted, and in some instances businesses being set alight.

The unrest and lawlessness resulted in newly-established campaigns − such as RebuildSA, the Durban Youth Council’s online campaign and Community Capacity − receiving scores of positive responses from volunteers who have offered their time, skills and resources to help restore order in the wake of civil unrest.

The hashtags #SaveSouthAfrica, #WeAreCapable and #CleanUpSA have also gained traction on Twitter, as hundreds of community members, corporates and NGOs coordinate and mobilise clean-up operations which are under way at some affected shopping centres and communities across the two provinces.

Rebuild SA, a Facebook volunteer group started by 25-year-old Emelda Masango from Soweto, has already attracted nearly 27 000 members, who have set up cleaning efforts in looted shopping malls and communities, and donations in the form of money, transport and food to those affected.

“When I started this initiative, I anticipated a few people to volunteer to just help clean up our worst struck areas in Soweto.

“I never anticipated that this small act of kindness would reach even the most affected in such a profound way. I am proud and overwhelmed. I have some team members that have volunteered to help and assist as I navigate and as we navigate the changes to a simple gesture of peace and love,” wrote Masango in a statement shared with the group.

Her efforts also led to the establishment of the #RebuildSA group on WhatsApp, which she says is currently full.

“Members of the Winnie Mabaso Foundation are helping with the clean-up of looted shops in the informal settlement of Meriting #MabasoLove #RebuildingSouthAfrica #TogetherWeCan,” says a member of the RebuildSA Facebook group, sharing images of the clean-up operations.

Meanwhile, Community Capacity, another Facebook group that was started this week, is focused on connecting community members with Telegram and WhatsApp volunteer groups in their areas around Gauteng.

The group has offered contacts of community leaders conducting and leading clean-up efforts in communities around Ekurhuleni, Alberton, Johannesburg, Soweto, Centurion and West Rand, among others.

“In times of tragedy, look for the helpers! They will always be there,” wrote the group’s page administrator in a post accompanied by images of people cleaning up.

Youth initiative, the Durban Youth Council, has started an online campaign on Change.org, which has been signed by over 13 000 people.

"We, the youth of Durban, appeal to you for support for our petition to place our city in an immediate lockdown in our homes for at least 48 hours, with the assistance of law enforcement agencies and the South African National Defence Force policing our areas, to restore all order in our communities in Durban. The unrest and lawlessness that has unfolded these past few days have caused us great danger and uncertainty," says a statement on the Web site.

Naming and shaming perpetrators

Leandri Janse Van Vuuren, MD of social media company Social Media 101 told ITWeb that while online platforms have been used as a “dangerous tool” to mobilise ongoing attacks and incite violence, online community groups have proven to have a positive impact.

“There are many positive roles that can be played by social media. We have seen the effective use of Facebook groups to mobilise communities, share information, combat fake news and restore calm, and in uniting the country.

“People are also able to see which places to avoid, and helping shop owners take evasive measures to ensure they move their goods before protesters reach their location. There have also been incidents where cars have been burned. If you go onto social media as a driver, you will know which routes to avoid.”

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams yesterday urged South Africans to use social media to name and shame perpetrators of the looting by sharing videos of the stored goods and reporting them to the police.

“All those young girls and boys who are being used to loot, they must refuse to be used by people who do not want their faces to be shown. The people causing this destruction are faceless but the reality is that they have faces; all we need to do is to expose them.

“These videos that we take, this Tweeting, Facebooking that we do, let it work for the benefit of our country and save the democracy that we have, as we work hand-in-hand with law enforcement,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

A comment shared by Cosmas Ncube in the Rebuild SA Facebook group seeks to heed Ndabei’s call: “I have just seen a group of people hiding looted goods in their flat in Germiston. My airtime is gone trying to call the police. Can anyone assist? All shops are closed nearby.”

Acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni yesterday briefed the media on the latest developments regarding government's response to the riots and looting.

She also detailed how government would respond using WhatsApp.

“A WhatsApp number and e-mail address, where members of the public can report those who are instigating the violence in their communities, will be launched,” she noted.

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