A call by President Cyril Ramaphosa to calm widespread unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng following the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma wasn’t enough to stop thousands of looters, many opportunistic, to attack and pillage businesses in South Africa’s two most populous provinces.
Especially small businesses, many of which are owned by foreigners, bore the brunt of attacks linked to supporters of the former president, now a criminal. “The Small Business Institute strongly condemns the wanton looting of businesses, destruction of vital economic infrastructure, burning of trucks and blockading of roads, primarily in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng,” the institute said in a media release.
The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s CEO, Alan Mukoki, said: “There is no protest that involves breaking into a shop, removing TVs and fridges, damaging property, going out to the streets and damaging infrastructure. That is not a legitimate protest, notwithstanding the fact that the constitution allows you the right to free protest and also allows other people not to protest if they don’t want to.”
At the time of writing, shopping centres in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Soweto, Roodepoort, the Johannesburg central business district and Mamelodi, among others, had been ransacked. In a press briefing on 13 July, police minister Bheki Cele said about 800 people had been arrested. Assurances by Cele and state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo that no lapses in intelligence gathering had occurred before the outbreak of violence, didn’t convince everyone.
“We are shocked and concerned that law enforcement agencies, especially intelligence services, have allowed the situation to develop for weeks ahead of the Constitutional Court judgement on 29 June,” the Small Business Institute said, with reference to Zuma’s incarceration. “The response has been slow, fragmented and woefully inadequate. This is completely unacceptable, and South Africans and economic operators, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, deserve protection from the official security services.”
Calls for stronger action by the police follows questions on how government came to decide to deploy around 70 000 soldiers to enforce the first hard lockdown a year ago, but only sent 2 500 troops to support the police in quelling the recent violence. Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said during the 13 July press briefing that the government is informed by the facts on the ground.
On calls for the declaration of a state of emergency, Mapisa-Nqakula said: “South Africa will declare a state of emergency if a need arises based on an assessment report.
“Whether it would be correct to declare a state of emergency right now, we do not think so,” she said. “During a state of emergency, in a sense you take all liberties from citizens and the military takes over the country. For now, we do not think that we have reached that point.”
Food and health security
In the meantime, Agri SA, which represents the country’s commercial farmers, called on government to implement a national state of emergency. “The looting of shops, stoning of cars, blocking of roads, burning of trucks and crops as well as theft of livestock are posing a serious threat to food security in the country,” Christo vander Rheede, executive director of Agri SA, said in a statement. “Furthermore, SA is a constitutional state, and our constitution places a constitutional obligation on the state to protect its citizens against such criminality.”
Christo van der Rheede Executive director of Agri SA
Van der Rheede’s concern was validated by the closure of the critical N3 highway which links SA’s busiest harbour and factories in Durban with the country’s economic heartland and most populous province, Gauteng. More than 20 trucks were burnt before the road closure, according to media reports.
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