Nothing to see here, folks: A policeman in a looted shop in the Joburg CBD. Picture: Alon Skuy
Nothing to see here, folks: A policeman in a looted shop in the Joburg CBD. Picture: Alon Skuy

One of the amateur videos shot in downtown Johannesburg last week offers a shocking moment when the camera pans across what looks like a body lying amid the broken glass of a shop window.

The camera wavers over a pair of legs then zooms in. Oh, phew, it’s only a shop mannequin. Nothing to see here, folks.

Whether the shop was foreign-owned is unclear. Given how the violence has roiled through the streets, it’s as likely as not that it was an SA-owned business, which gives the lie to official mutterings that this is merely an outbreak of xenophobia.

Try as one might, it’s hard not to get punched in the head by the subtext, which is this: if these annoying, illegal foreigners just went back to where they came from, then — hey presto! — the outbreaks of violence would end and Joburg would drift back to sleep.

Hats off, then, to police minister Bheki Cele who was unafraid to call it for what it was — basic criminality, which, yes, has focused on foreign migrants, but also devastated South Africans and their hard-won businesses.

The minister also scores a point for pouring cold water on Gauteng premier David Makhura’s suggestion to put the army into Joburg’s troubled streets.

"It will look like a Sunday picnic if we bring in the army," said Cele, according to the Daily Maverick.

I haven’t been to many picnics where assault rifles are being fired but they probably exist, maybe in America.

The looting is a warning to us all. It’s little different to any service delivery protest, except that the looting has killed more people. As the economy crawls on its knees, people are getting desperate. Everyone is tired of promises that are lies.

It might be worth asking that Somali shopkeeper — before setting fire to his store — what resemblance Joburg has to Mogadishu in, say, 1993. Since he is here and not there, the answer will probably be "a lot".

And that is our second warning. Not that anyone’s really listening.