in Soweto, the militia makes the police

By Mathilde Boussion

Posted today at 7:00 p.m.

Usually, Nhlanhla Lux travels around Soweto, Johannesburg’s largest township, driving her McLaren. This morning, he left the car in the garage and put on his combat gear. A revolver to his thigh, he distributes the instructions. Around him, a dozen men in black nod their heads as they listen to him. Goal of the day: “Clean a high school” dealers who threaten teachers. Seeing the commando leader in camouflage uniform, a young woman approaches to ask for a photo. With tears in her eyes, she repeats: “This man saved the country! We need a president like him! “

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Nhlanhla Lux in front of a fabric printed with the logo of her movement, the Soweto Parliament, dedicated to the protection of the rights of the inhabitants of the township.  Johannesburg, South Africa, August 19, 2021.

At 33, Nhlanhla Lux is an ordinary civilian in his military air. A month ago, he and his gang protected Soweto’s largest shopping center from the wave of looting that hit South Africa. In one week, from July 9 to 16, more than 40,000 businesses were ransacked in the provinces of Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng (where Johannesburg is located) following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma, convicted to fifteen months in prison for contempt of justice in a case related to corruption. The riots left more than 330 dead.

Gutted display cases

The first targets of violence are the “malls”, these shopping centers which have grown to the heart of the townships since the end of apartheid. A month later, in Soweto, the majority of them are still out of service. In the parking lot of Jabulani Mall, one of the most famous, we wait two more hours before being able to withdraw money or do our shopping: most of the ATMs have been looted, only a handful of businesses have reopened their doors.

A store after the passage of the looters, in Thokoza, in the suburbs of Johannesburg, on August 19, 2021.
Aftermath of looting at a store in Thokoza, South Africa, August 19, 2021.

Further on, the gutted windows of the Ndofaya Mall still bear witness to the violence of the assault. Here, ten people died, trampled by the crowd. Security slipped away when they saw the looters arrive. The presence of the police station on the other side of the street did not change anything. Overwhelmed by the multiple outbreaks that were blazing across Johannesburg, the police were unable to contain the rioters who poured into businesses by the thousands.

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In some neighborhoods, self-defense militias have organized themselves to fill the void. Since then, their informal dams have been dismantled, but some residents continue their activity with increased motivation. In Soweto, Nlhanhla Lux is one of them. Raised between the township and the beautiful districts of Johannesburg, where he studied thanks to a sports scholarship, the young man was a golfer before creating an aviation company. But for some time, he has reoriented his activity. From now on, the entrepreneur supports social actions, organizes self-defense workshops and “Cleaning operations” streets squatted by drug traffickers.

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