by Fabian Ommar
If you’ve been following the news this week, you know the crap is hitting the fan ugly and fast in South Africa. Mobs have been looting, ransacking, and destroying supermarkets, grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping centers in cities in the country’s Eastern region.
The situation is also tense in Cuba. Though things haven’t reached the level of violence and destruction that we see in the African country (at least not yet), massive protests against the communist regime flare-up, and the population is taking to the streets in droves. Haiti is another place that’s been in the news lately after the president was assassinated in his own home by mercenaries (we’re definitely going back to the 1970s and ’80s).
We’re living in crazy and volatile times. These situations provide essential clues and encapsulate valuable lessons for all of us, regardless of where we live. I’ll focus on the developments in the African country for the moment for a specific reason.
Worst Violence Witnessed in South Africa Since the 1990s
I have a friend who lives in Cape Town, the capital of South Africa. She’s from Portugal, and her husband is an ex-pat working for a Spanish engineering company in the African country. He was prospecting a contract in KwaZulu-Natal, an important economic hub and the crisis’s epicenter when SHTF. My friend’s husband was rushed home, and they’re making arrangements to leave the country and return to Europe.
We spoke briefly. She and her daughters are frightened. She told me they didn’t see it coming, no one thought something this bad could happen this fast. There’s been a tsunami of fake news coming in 24-hours nonstop. She says it’s hard to tell fiction from fact amidst the turmoil and confusion. Things are spiraling out control quickly, she said.
The violence is still confined to the country’s eastern region and hasn’t yet reached her city. But fear has, and measures are already being put in place in case the riots spillover. Authorities reaffirmed no violence nor illegal activity would be allowed in Western Cape, but the population is insecure. According to her, my friend’s family has bugged out to a friend’s house in a safer part of town.
What Sparked the Violence?
Discontent runs rampant in both countries: the communist dictatorship that brought the Caribbean island to its knees is more than six decades old. Corrupt governments that have ruled South Africa since 2008 have kept the country in a constant state of crisis and underdevelopment.
I’m not implying there’s a direct connection between the two situations. However, both are ravaged economies hit hard by COVID-19, lockdowns, and unstable or dictatorial regimes. In South Africa, there’s also an enormous wealth gap and some lingering ethnic and racial issues making things even more complex.
But, in every similar situation, politics play a significant role. In these cases, the population of Cuba is obviously tired of the communist regime, at the limit with the insufferable conditions of living and lack of freedom.
In South Africa, the supporters of ex-president Jacob Zuma protested, demanding his release from prison (he was jailed last week on charges of corruption). The protests quickly descended into rioting and looting. Incapable of placating the moods of Zuma’s supporters and at the same time command decisive leadership on the rest of the population, the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa hasn’t yet regained control of the situation.
A Volatile Environment Is Necessary to Ignite Unrest
These things don’t happen overnight or out of the blue. What usually gives rise to these revolts is an economic crisis. A deep and prolonged financial and economic meltdown will invariably corrode the institutional pillars, destroy the social fabric of almost any society, and turn any place ripe for civil unrest and infighting.
It grows mainly in the underground, sowing the seeds of racial, ethnic, religious, political, and other social or national divisions, and exacerbates any existing feelings.
As we know, the economy and institutions of both countries are in shambles. Unemployment in South Africa is 32% of the population, one of the highest in the world. It has undoubtedly created the perfect background for the eruption of social violence.
Everything Crawls Until Everything Runs
SHTF happens in stages. We know that script very well. At least we should. It’s the same everywhere. Africa, Argentina, U.S., U.K., Cuba, Venezuela. If it’s about humans, it’s always the same. On that, we can count.
First, there are mass layoffs. With unemployment rising, homelessness and common minor crimes also rise. Then crime becomes more violent, spreads, and grows more. At one point, things will get so critical, and in so many different areas, the population will revolt and start protesting, for whatever reason. And anything can become the reason.
The protests of 2013 were sparked by an increase of just 0,30 cents in the price of public transportation. But the backdrop was one of political instability, widespread corruption, and economic downturn. From there, if the causes are not contained, if it’s not reversed – then it’s a matter of time for the situation to run out of control. Here, the protests led to the impeachment of the president three years later.
How Crazy Can Things Get?
The situation in Eastern South Africa brought memories of periods of unrest we experienced here in Brazil. It wasn’t nearly this bad. However, protests in opposition to the government exploded in massive demonstrations, which in many instances spiraled down into vandalism, rioting, and violent confrontations.
I live in a decent district of town just a few blocks from an open square, traditionally a meeting point for cultural manifestations and events. Unfortunately, it’s also the gathering place for demonstrations. During protests of that period, we heard helicopters, bombs, screaming, and the crowds clashing with the police from our home.
We woke up one day to closed stores and bank agencies, many with broken fronts. Local commerce stayed shut, and things took a while to return to normal. Even today, after years of normalcy and relative calm, some places will board up or close for a day or two at the slightest sign of unrest. Or even for weeks, as in early 2020.
This Can and Does Happen Anywhere, Anytime
We witnessed this type of thing happening in the U.S. in 2020. Again, there are differences in motives, magnitude, intensity, and violence. In South Africa, ambulances, police cars, and transportation trucks were attacked. People even looted a blood bank in Durban, the third most populous city in the country. The army was deployed to help contain the situation. Hundreds, or thousands, were arrested.
I keep saying the system is the people running it. When things turn this crazy, the population is either taking part in the turmoil – looting, protesting, fighting – or bunkering. Who will risk going to work in such a dangerous environment? Businesses will stay shut until it’s over, and public transportation will halt. There are already threats of shortages. If the situation persists, violence can increase, taking The Grid down, partially or even entirely.
This kind of happening also wreaks havoc on the local economy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses already taking a hit from the pandemic lockdowns and the economic downturn, will have to deal with the impact of paralyzation, looting, and destruction.
Places May Change, But Dynamics Are Similar
A mood of discontent and revolt is sweeping most of the world right now. Globally, a deep distrust in the capacity (or goodwill) of governments, authorities, and institutions to take care of their sh*t and leave people alone is palpable. It’s perhaps more evident in western countries and places where information circulates freely. However, it’s starting to show up in more closed and tightly controlled nations as well, even relatively isolated places like Cuba.
The system is more fragile than ever.
The reasons don’t matter. The political, social, and economic backdrops might differ in South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Russia, or the U.S. Each place is in a different stage. But the acting forces and dynamics are the same. Get to know what stage, where you live, is in right now, and keep paying attention to the developments. And, of course, stay prepared.
There Are Many Ways to Die in This Kind of SHTF
When disorder reaches this level, things get dangerous. One day everything is normal. The next, it hits the fan. On the third, there are a thousand ways to get injured or killed. Cities have turned into war zones in South Africa in a matter of hours, with an estimated 72 dead since Monday and widespread destruction. It’s so crazy that people completely lose it in different ways.
Building the awareness and mentality by the knowledge gained about these things and situations is an invaluable prepper skill. When these things happen, we won’t fall prey to panic, despair, or blindly follow the herd. I can personally attest to that, and many others can, too.
A majority of the population are not aware of these things and act (or react) without thinking. Many will take part in the looting or protesting, as we’re seeing. Some will go out to see in person (or film the craziness to post on social media) like it’s a game. Some will face the mess to get supplies. Those are all just chances to get arrested, injured, or killed.
In Soweto, the hometown of Nelson Mandela, ten were killed during a stampede in a shopping center. Many are dying in shootings and crossfires. Others died from lack of assistance after being injured. (This is happening in Cuba as well, with the aggravation of political reasons for denial: some regimes don’t have any guardrails.)
Residents of Durban and other cities were advised by authorities to not rely on the police and instead arm and be prepared to defend themselves. Whether fake news or official, this led to the instant creation of armed militias (called “defense squads” locally) and paramilitary groups, increasing violence and shootings. Unfortunately, police, firefighters, ambulances, and everything else will be overwhelmed, attacked, or just not functional, eventually. That’s how it is.
What Lessons Can Be Learned From These Situations?
The best advice, as always, is to not be there. Sometimes this is not possible. Other times, trouble will come our way regardless. If the window for bugging out has already closed, staying put is indeed the safest option. Whatever happens, make all efforts to stay as far from the action (violence and confusion) as possible.
For that (as we’re always mentioning here), it’s not enough to stay locked inside the home. Some measures and preparations must be in place to ensure the essentials for the necessary period (which in cases like these can be days, weeks, or even a month – or more). Be prepared to ration, improvise and do whatever to extend supplies and manage resources.
Safety must be accounted for as well. I’m not talking about guns only. It’s common in some SHTF for many buildings to be set on fire after being looted and vandalized. That presents a great threat for anyone staying in place because, as I said, it’s violence and danger coming our way without us looking for it. Keep ready to defend your family in various forms.
Stay Mobile and Be Prepared
My friend’s family decided to bug out not only because they were frightened (justifiably or not). But also because they felt they could get trapped even before things got worse, by rioting mobs or by the authorities. In cases like these, the government may put some restrictions in place that greatly limit mobility. Curfews, roadblocks, martial law: be on the lookout for clues and sudden changes in your area, even if the mess occurs elsewhere, and move quickly.
My friend’s were not prepared, so they took the basics but left many important things behind. They might now need some of those things for safety, consumption, communication, personal hygiene, medication, documents, etc. My friend did not explicitly mention (she doesn’t know I’m a prepper), but I felt she wished they were better prepared and had some emergency kits or B.O.B.s with them. And always keep your passport ready.
Communication is essential. Unfortunately, my friends are now incommunicable (on the run, I assume). People in Cuba are also having trouble exchanging information and communicating with relatives and others worldwide. In great part due to censorship and restrictions imposed by the government, which is more common than people think (see Myanmar recently). Anyone living in an unstable place must have a backup communication system that works off-grid, like a satellite phone.
As we see, bugging out doesn’t happen just in prepper’s fantasies. It’s 2021, and if there was a time it can become real (at least in some places and for some), it’s now. Depending on where we live, we must know when and how and be prepared to flee if a situation calls for it. And not just run from danger, but to safety. It can be done in stages, but always with a plan. Otherwise, we can become refugees, and that’s never good.
It’s hard to cover everything going on in a situation like this or all the critical measures to take in advance.
Fortunately, there are many great articles here at The Organic Prepper and entire books in the Learning Center (from Daisy, Selco, Toby, myself, and others). You can find loads of information on how to stay aware, increase safety, be prepared while sheltering in place, bugging out, dealing with violence in the streets, and lots more.
If you see unrest coming your way anytime in the future, don’t take it lightly. We’re living in volatile times, and these things can and do happen. I believe it will increase and get worse in various other places before it gets better again. I suggest you start now by reaching for that reality-based knowledge and act on it.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor