Warning over sharp rise in riots, protests and social unrest in South Africa

 ·21 Jun 2023

The Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) has published the 9th Edition of the Annual Risk Report, sounding a new alarm on the various crises hitting South Africa.

Among the biggest risks the country faces is growing social unrest, with the group already noting a rise in protests and riots, fuelled by social and economic pressures that have persisted for almost a decade.

“Over the past eight years, South Africa has faced recurrent risks that have persisted and intensified, paving the way for the current situation,” said IRMSA’s Chief Risk Advisor, Christopher Palm.

Economic challenges include stagnant growth, high unemployment, and persistent inequality – these have consistently ranked among the major risks facing the country for years, IRMSA said.

Concerns over corruption, governance, the rule of law, and breakdowns in public service delivery have also been recurring themes, it said.

IRMSA said that South Africa had experienced a surge in social unrest, with protests in recent years as issues such as inadequate service delivery, poverty, inequality, unemployment, and political corruption feed frustration in the population.

However, the country’s issues are not limited to this. Environmental risks, particularly related to climate change, extreme weather events, and water scarcity have also emerged as significant concerns, it said.

“Furthermore, technological disruption, cyber vulnerabilities, and the rise of artificial intelligence and automation have added to the complexity of the poly-crisis,” the group said.

The risk experts said there is an urgent need for South Africa to address these risks collectively – particularly the impact of climate change, the persistent energy crisis, and the deteriorating infrastructure situation.

To even begin addressing this, however, the group said that “ethical and visionary leadership” is needed.

“If left unaddressed, the consequences of the poly-crisis could lead South Africa toward becoming a failed state, or worse, a mafia state,” it said.

IRMSA said that the Risk Report serves as a wake-up call for the country and those in leadership and should spur immediate and concerted action.

The solutions to the issues are not new, and the risk response has been repeated several times in the past – but it requires the government and other leaders to take “bold” decisions to address the threats.

These decisions and strategies include:

  1. Prioritising policies and investments that foster economic growth, stimulate job creation, and provide economic support. Emphasis should be placed on sectors with significant potential for job generation, including green industries, technology, and tourism.
  2. Tackling high levels of inequality through the implementation of policies promoting social and economic equity. Measures such as progressive taxation, enhanced access to education and healthcare, and land reform should be employed.
  3. Investing in education and skills development to enhance workforce quality, promote innovation, and increase overall productivity.
  4. Creating a supportive environment for entrepreneurship and Small, Medium, and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). This should include encouraging innovation, providing access to finance and business support services, and streamlining bureaucratic processes.
  5. Strengthening governance and combating corruption by fostering transparency, accountability, and democratic institutions. Measures should be taken to uphold the rule of law, ensuring equal treatment for all citizens.
  6. Investing in public infrastructure, with a focus on digitising basic public services, improving energy and water resources, and enhancing public transportation.
  7. Addressing the challenge of climate change through the promotion of sustainable development, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and preservation of biodiversity and natural resources.
  8. Promoting innovation, research, and development to boost high-tech industries and enhance the country’s competitiveness on the global stage.
  9. Combating crime and violence through increased investment in law enforcement, improvements to the criminal justice system, and addressing the root causes of criminal activity.
  10. Adopting a comprehensive and integrated approach to risk management, including the establishment of effective early-warning systems and disaster preparedness.
  11. Strengthening international partnerships and engaging more effectively with the global community.

“By aligning with government priorities, (these strategies) pave the way for sustainable growth, increased social equity, and a stronger presence on the international stage,” the group said.

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