Belfast-based ex-Ulster player fearful for family
Former Ulster Rugby star Louis Ludik has spoken of his heartbreak at scenes of violence and looting unfolding in his homeland of South Africa.
Louis, who lives in Belfast with his wife and son, has family who have been affected by the disorder, which was sparked by the imprisonment last week of the country’s former President Jacob Zuma.
Seventy-two people have died and 1,234 have been arrested after rioting in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Many of the fatalities were the result of stampedes as crowds looted shops, warehouses and other businesses.
“We’re still trying to comprehend what’s going on, but from friends and family on the ground we are hearing reports of not only mass looting, but businesses then being burnt to the ground afterwards,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Infrastructure is being destroyed and future jobs and work for people... I don’t know how long it will take to be rebuilt. It’s just so worrying.”
Louis moved here from Agen in France in 2014 and went on to play 112 games for Ulster. The 34-year-old was never capped at international level. He retired in May.
He added: “My mother and stepdad are in Cape Town, where it is not too bad as I understand it, but where my in-laws are in KwaZulu-Natal, it’s very bad at the moment.
“My father-in-law’s business, which he has been building for the last year and invested millions in, has been looted and burned to the ground. His car was also destroyed. It’s a very difficult situation.
“Number one, the insurance companies won’t be able to cover all the damage and cope with it all. People are looting warehouses of food and water, burning them down, as well as fuelling stations. Any resources, even medicine... everything has been taken.”
On Wednesday it was reported that shopping centres were attacked in eastern Johannesburg, while south of the city in Soweto township, police and army units were patrolling malls and streets.
The trouble erupted when Zuma began a 15-month sentence for contempt of court following his refusal to comply with an order to testify at a state-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption during his tenure as President from 2009 to 2018. Protests snowballed into a spree of looting in township areas in the two provinces. Trouble hasn’t spread to the nation’s other seven provinces as yet, but police are on high alert.
The deployment of 2,500 soldiers to support the police has helped ease violence, however unrest is continuing in several areas.
Louis added: “We’re here in Belfast watching this unfold and we can do nothing. We’re helpless to do anything. We are trying to get advice from people and see if there’s anything we can do to help.
"We’ve been seeing if we can try and get our families out of South Africa, but with everything going on, it’s next to impossible.
"If you don’t have any ancestry elsewhere or anything, it’s almost impossible. My family here are in a very lucky position to be safe in Belfast.
"We don’t know what’s going to happen, how long it’s going to last, or how many more deaths and how much more destruction will be caused before it ends. It’s heartbreaking.”
The disorder has disrupted hospitals already struggling to cope with a third wave of Covid.
The National Hospital Network (NHN), which represents 241 public hospitals in South Africa, said it was running out of oxygen, drugs and food.
“The impact of the looting and destruction is having dire consequences. And the epicentre of the pandemic is within the affected provinces currently under siege,“ NHN said.
Hospital staff in affected areas are also unable to get to work, worsening the situation.
While sparked by the jailing of Zuma, the disorder reflects growing concerns over failures by the ruling African National Congress to address inequality decades after the end of apartheid in 1994.