FirstRand clarifies social unrest and riot warning around the election

 ·23 May 2024

Banking group FirstRand says a leaked internal memo warning of increased social unrest, looting and clashes ahead of the 2024 elections is just a business-as-usual risk assessment and not a forecast or baseline expectation.

The group issued an internal medium-risk security notice, warning that it anticipates some uMkhonto we Sizwe Party (MKP) protest action during May/June.

This risk is linked to possible dissatisfaction over former President Jacob Zuma’s ineligibility to stand for Parliament in the 2024 elections because of a recent contempt of court conviction.

FirstRand circulated the memo various operating entities, such as First National Bank, WesBank and Rand Merchant Bank on Monday.

The group’s security analysis said that KwaZulu-Natal (and to a lesser extent Gauteng and Mpumalanga) is considered at an increased risk for unrest due to the larger support for both Zuma and the MK Party in the province(s).

According to the memo, first leaked to EWN, “the risk for intimidation, malicious damage to property, arson, barricading of roads, looting, hijacking of trucks as well as clashes between members/supporters of the MKP opposing political parties and with authorities [during the 2024 National and Provincial Election season] is high, should demonstrations take place.”

However, the group told BusinessTech that the memo is not a baseline expectation or forecast and is just part of “normal risk monitoring processes”

“The group’s security team issued an internal note as part of its normal risk monitoring processes,” it said.

“Large financial institutions such as FirstRand are required to constantly monitor emerging risks within its operating environment as part of its responsibilities for contingency planning.

“These assessments are shared with the operating entities on an ongoing basis to ensure frontline staff are fully informed and equipped to service customer needs to ensure business continuity under a variety of potential adverse scenarios.

“This note was an outcome of this process and does not present a forecast of the baseline expectation.”

As part of the assessment, the group identified a host of “high risk” areas, with particular focus on regions with strong support for Zuma.

These stretch across KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng, North-West, the Free State, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, with ‘strategic’ locations such as city halls, ANC head offices and government buildings also included.

As was the case with 2021 riots, certain roads have also been flagged, including the N3 between Durban Central and Harrismith (Free State) as well as the N2 between Mtubatuba and Port Shepstone (KwaZulu-Natal).

Read: Zuma not allowed to stand for Parliament: Constitutional Court

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