Last Tuesday evening (13), around fifty people walked towards a small shopping center in the slum of Atteridgeville, South Africa, with the firm intention of promoting another booty in the wave of violence that has hit the country since the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma.
The gang was stopped by a group of security guards standing guard outside the mall and immediately whistled and contacted the police via a hotline. The noise was enough to disperse the invaders and preserve the place.
The action was led by the Kasi Brothers, a group formed by residents of the community of about 60,000 people, located on the outskirts of the South African capital, Pretoria. Composed of around 90 people, the organization has succeeded in maintaining order in the region, marked by high levels of violence and poor police, as is the rule in most South African townships (favelas). .
“We are hard working people who want to protect their infrastructure,” Lebo Cartman, 33, one of the group’s members said by phone. “Kasi”, in the local Sepedi language, means community. The “Brothers of the Community” claim to be only volunteers, not all experienced in matters of security. Cartman, for example, defines himself as an “entrepreneur” who works by supplying products to department stores.
The organization was formed in January this year in an attempt to contain the violence in the neighborhood, and now faces its biggest test. “There have always been many murders, and we have lost many of our brothers and people we know to the violence,” he says.
Its members wear a white polo shirt with the logo of the institution and have created a slogan that reads: We refuse to participate in vandalism and defend our community.
They claim not to use weapons, only their whistles, and present themselves as a kind of auxiliary police force. “We work side-by-side with the police, and everything we do, we inform them,” says Cartman.
On Wednesday (14), they received the deference of a visit from the country’s main police authority, Minister Bheki Cele. Tacitly acknowledging that the police alone are not dealing with the situation, he praised the work of the Kasi brothers and said that they are an example for the country.
The wave of violence that swept through the country was sparked by the arrest of Zuma, accused of “lack of respect for justice”, for ignoring court summons and missing hearings in the criminal cases to which he is responding. President between 2009 and 2018, Zuma, 79, is the target of several allegations of corruption, but still retains great popularity, especially with followers of his ethnic group, the Zulu, the most numerous in the country.
Thus, his arrest, the last 7, triggered protests from supporters, which quickly became a pretext for acts of pure vandalism in a country in economic crisis and high unemployment.
Until Thursday (15), the official toll of the riots was 117, concentrated in the provinces of Gauteng, economic and political center of the country, and KwaZulu-Natal, cradle of the Zulu nation.
In several regions, especially the poorest, the looting of shopping centers aroused a reaction from residents, often just as violent.
Groups of van drivers, the country’s main means of transport, played an important role in the pursuit of the looters. Videos circulating on social media show armed people trying to defend business establishments against vandals. The South African government has announced that it will employ 25,000 troops to try to control the situation, in addition to the approximately 2,000 already working during the crisis.
In Atteridgeville, the Kasi brothers intend to maintain surveillance indefinitely 24 hours a day, in relay. “It’s always a fluid thing, so we wait until everything calms down before we let our guard down,” Cartman says. “There are hidden interests fueling this violence.
The group concentrates every day in front of the Nkomo Village Mall, the main shopping center in the community, and from there it is distributed to other hot spots in the region. On its Facebook profile, the mall posted a video of residents walking past and honking their horns in support of the guards.
“A big cry in support of the Kasi brothers to make sure we are safe and well taken care of. We appreciate your support! The post says. According to Lebogang Mofokeng, the administrator of the mall, the group is helping to protect three shopping centers in the favela. “We work together.”
Cartman says the entity receives some financial and material support from traders. Shutting down local businesses, he said, would be economically catastrophic. “The employment situation here is very difficult, including the fact that we are suffering from the pandemic. We have many shopping malls that meet our basic needs, we cannot let this be destroyed. “