South Africa Mops Up After Violent Protests Shake the Nation
Clean-up operations continue in South Africa after violent unrest was stemmed by military intervention, with major roads reopened across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces.
At least 212 people died during a week of mayhem, hundreds of shops were looted, and key infrastructure was damaged or destroyed, potentially slowing South Africa’s recovery from 2020’s downturn.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa authorized the deployment of 25,000 troops to restore calm. The month-long operation is expected to cost 615.7 million rand ($42.7 million).
The protests followed ex-President Jacob Zuma’s incarceration on contempt-of-court charges, and broadened as poor communities took to the streets to vent their anger over sub-standard living conditions.
The actions coincided with various measures taken to control a third wave of coronavirus infections that have pushed hospitals to capacity. South Africa has been on virus alert level 4, its second highest, since late June, with public gatherings theoretically banned. The rioting halted Covid-19 vaccinations in two key provinces.
“Calm has returned and is returning to most of these areas,” Ramaphosa said Friday in a televised address, his third since the unrest began. “We will extinguish the fires that are still raging and we will stamp out every last ember.”
Ramaphosa said “a good number” of the alleged instigators had been identified. He said the unrest, far from being spontaneous, had been “planned and coordinated.”
South Africa faces a long haul to restore battered investor confidence. While the rand gained 1.1% against the dollar on Friday as calm was restored, it still fell 1.5% on the week. The FTSE/JSE Africa Top40 Index fell 1.6% on Friday.
Government officials met the chief executive officers of 34 of the nation’s biggest companies on Thursday to discuss the situation, acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told reporters.
Gross domestic product will likely shrink in the third quarter, while delays in the vaccination program could result in new infections, Annabel Bishop, chief economist at Investec Bank Ltd. said in an emailed note. Business and consumer confidence has been “decimated,” she wrote.
Deutsche Bank AG sees the unrest shaving 0.8 of a percentage point off South Africa’s economic growth rate this year. In June, the World Bank forecast South African GDP to grow 3.5% in 2021 after tumbling 7% in 2020, the most in a century.
On Friday, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi, chairman of the Southern African Development Community, warned of a broader regional economic impact should unrest flare up again.
Food, medicines and fuel remain 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 government has received reports of extensive damage being done to 161 malls, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor outlets and distributors.
The South African Council of Churches on Friday urged the government to initiate a limited amnesty during which people could return looted property to police without facing charges.
In Port Shepstone, south of Durban, long lines of people waited outside shopping centers to buy food on Friday. 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 orchestrated assault on South Africa’s democracy.
“Through social media, fake news and misinformation they have sought to 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.”
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 businesses 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.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.