Protest Violence Eases in South Africa as Clean-Up Begins
An uneasy calm prevailed across most of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces as key roads reopened and clean-up operations began in earnest on Friday following some of the most violent protests the country has ever seen.
At least 212 people died during a week of mayhem, hundreds of shops were looted, and key infrastructure was destroyed. The unrest was triggered by ex-President Jacob Zuma’s incarceration on contempt-of-court charges and exploded as poor communities took to the streets in their thousands to vent their anger over appalling living conditions and a lack of jobs.
“Calm has returned and is returning to most of these areas,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday in a televised address to the nation, his third since the unrest began. “We will extinguish the fires that are still raging and we will stamp out every last ember.”
The country faces a long haul to rebuild the economy and battered investor confidence. While the rand gained 1.1% against the dollar on Friday, it’s still down 1.5% this week.
Gross domestic product will likely shrink in the third quarter, while delays in the country’s coronavirus vaccination program could result in new infections, Annabel Bishop, chief economist at Investec Bank Ltd. said in an emailed note. Deutsche Bank AG sees the unrest shaving 0.8 of a percentage point off the country’s economic growth rate this year.
Food, medicines and fuel are in short supply in several towns in KwaZulu-Natal following the shuttering of hundreds of retail outlets and disruption of traffic on key transport routes. The main highway that links Gauteng and the eastern port city of Durban, and other routes were reopened on Friday. The government has received reports of extensive damage being done to 161 malls, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor outlets and distributors.
In Port Shepstone, south of Durban, long lines of people waited outside shopping centers to buy food. Government buildings and almost all stores other than grocery outlets remained shut. There was a heavy presence of soldiers on the town’s streets, and metropolitan police officers and civilians manned roadblocks at key access points.
Ramaphosa described the violence as a deliberate and well-orchestrated assault on South Africa’s democracy, and conceded that his administration was ill prepared to counter the planned and coordinated attacks. He warned that while the instigators were known and the police were tracking them down, they continued to pose a threat to the country.
“Through social media, fake news and misinformation they have sought inflame racial tensions and violence,” he said. “This attempted insurrection has failed to gain popular support among our people. It has failed because of the efforts of our security forces and because South Africans have rejected it.”
Government officials met the chief executive officers of 34 of the nation’s biggest companies on Thursday to discuss how to end the lawlessness, re-establish supply chains, restore food security and repair critical infrastructure, acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told reporters in Pretoria, the capital.
The government has deployed 25,000 soldiers to help the police restore order -- a month-long operation parliament said will cost 615.7 million rand ($42.7 million). More than 2,550 people have been arrested and the police are investigating 131 cases of murder.
Ramaphosa said it was imperative to provide support to households and business to enable them to rebuild and restock. The Presidency and Treasury were working on a comprehensive package that will be presented to the cabinet for consideration, with details to be announced soon, he said.
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