South Africa on high alert after threat of more protests

 ·22 Aug 2021

There are inflammatory messages on various social media platforms advocating for violence and a countrywide shutdown on 23 August, according to South Africa’s National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints).

There are measures in place to ensure the safety of South Africans with security forces on high alert and ready to maintain stability in the country, the organisation said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg on Sunday.

Police Ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said messages are also doing the rounds where people are mobilising to respond to the national shutdown.

“The public is urged not to respond to calls for violence and criminality and is discouraged from participating in activities that seek to defy the rule of law,” said Themba.

A week of riots in July left more than 300 people dead and the ensuing arson and looting across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces cost the economy an estimated R50 billion.

The violence marked the worst civil unrest in South Africa since the end of white-minority rule in 1994 and came after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma on contempt-of-court charges.

In a July research note, professional services firm PwC said that South Africa’s national GDP growth could be 0.4 percentage points lower this year due to the week of significant disruption.

Given the loss in potential economic growth, PwC estimates up to 50,000 jobs could be at risk under the baseline scenario.

However, this number could creep higher in a downside scenario where South Africa’s GDP is even more greatly impacted than expected by the violence.

“From our perspective, these events essentially placed key areas of the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal economies in a virtual level 5 lockdown,” PwC said.

“Many retail shops were closed, inter-provincial transport ground to a halt; diverse places of work were unable to open as normal, and citizens – afraid for their safety – stayed at home.”

The country’s GDP hasn’t expanded by more than 3% since 2011 and output is only expected to reach pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in 2023. Economists see the damage from the riots shaving as much as one percentage point off economic growth this year.

PwC cited data from Google which shows that workplace activity in KwaZulu-Natal was 21% lower on Friday (9 July) compared to the pre-pandemic period, versus a figure of just 14% a week earlier before protests started.

It added that residential activity was 24% higher on protest-hit July 9 versus the pre-pandemic period compared to a figure of 20% on 2 July as more people stayed home amidst transport and commercial disruption.

The loss of jobs will add to the mounting pressure seen in South Africa, with some analysts pointing to the already high unemployment rate as one of the catalysts behind the looting and violence.

Data published by Nedbank shows that while some 847,000 people had found employment since April last year, the economy is still short a massive 1.4 million jobs compared to Q1 2020 before the pandemic struck.

Added to this bleak reality, the number of discouraged workers – those who have stopped looking for work altogether – has increased throughout the pandemic rising to 3.1 million in Q1 – the highest level since the Labour Force Survey started just over 12 years ago.

With further reporting by Bloomberg.

Read: Workers hit by South Africa’s looting will be paid out by government – how to apply

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