The progressive intelligentsia too easily dismissed the call for a state of emergency. They need to recognise that South Africa is not Canada or New Zealand and its security challenges are far more serious.

The past 10 days have left those of us who are far from home aghast at the images and videos of violence and looting, the failure of police to protect citizens, the spontaneous organisation of neighbourhood community defence structures to protect families, homes and businesses, and the opportunism of some politicians milking this for their own short-term, narrow purposes. Some, like me, who have written about these issues before, have also kept quiet so as not to make easy comments from afar. Instead I waited, talked to colleagues, read the analyses and recommended solutions from those who are much closer to the ground. My purpose now is to reflect back to these colleagues a critical review of their ideas and recommendations in the hope that it might be useful to activists and citizens interested in healing the divides and rebuilding communities.

The immediate response of most progressive commentators was to highlight the economic inequalities of South African society and the social polarisation and gratuitous violence that…

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