South Africa calculates the cost of the worst unrest since apartheid


Last week, the burnt ruins of a cold chain warehouse were still smoldering, and thick smoke rose from Hamasdale in the western suburbs of Durban, which is the new logistics center that South Africa has promised.

After the worst plunder in apartheid democracy a few days later, any meat that has not been stolen will rot inside.

After former President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to jail for failing to participate in a corruption investigation, a huge civil unrest broke out, which dealt a heavy blow to the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It has been Zuma’s support foundation for a long time. During the week of violence, more than 330 people died across the country, which ended when the army took to the streets.

There is no more obvious economic impact than Hamasdale. The looters are targeting some of the many retail warehouses and manufacturers along the main highway from Johannesburg to the largest container port in Durban in Africa. The route stretches for miles.

Since Cyril Ramaphosa took office in 2018, he has pledged to reverse the sluggish economy and has high hopes for the region’s revival. “There is real positive momentum. Job opportunities are being created,” said an executive who asked not to be named.

Business groups such as the South African Homeowners Association and South African Business Leaders warned that this future is now at risk. The estimated cost of the province’s GDP—in terms of inventory losses, property losses, and export losses—approximately 20 billion rand (1.4 billion U.S. dollars). South Africa’s gross domestic product last year was approximately US$300 billion.

Robbers run out of a Nike store in Durban Springfield Value Center © STR/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

According to industry organizations, some companies may take years to rebuild. KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng, the economic center of South Africa, which has also been violently attacked, account for half of the country’s GDP and nearly half of the country’s population. The Port of Durban handles 70% of the country’s imports and is the gateway to Southern Africa.

“It is currently difficult to assess the total cost of the unrest, because some areas are still unstable, especially in KZN. However, the loss of KZN may exceed 20 billion rand, and the cost of the country is very likely [to be] North of 50 billion rand,” independent economist Thabi Leoka said. “Apart from the loss of life, the biggest loss is that many people lose their jobs because their workplace no longer exists. “

KwaZulu-Natal has long symbolized two South Africa: one is investment in high-tech logistics and job creation, and the other is the run-down and bumpy road outside the business park.

Protests that began with truck burning and looting quickly evolved into attacks on the food supply chain, including supermarkets, warehouses, and food packaging. Ramaphosa told business leaders this week that deliberate destruction of such investments is at the core of the unrest, which is part of a plan to “weak the economy, cause social instability, and severely weaken-even expel-democracies”.

The unrest also reflects people’s despair over years of unemployment and hunger that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. “This is not a Zuma problem-it is a time bomb,” said Thapelo Mohapi, a spokesperson for the Durban movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, which represents shacks residents.

Mohapi said that in the Umgeni Park area of ​​Durban, one such settlement is located under tree-lined suburbs and warehouses, but “people are even cooking wild plants under lockdown.” As the riots spread, “people were eating and saying,’I don’t know who Zuma is'”.

Police inspect cars for stolen goods in Hamasdale

Police inspect cars for stolen goods in Hamasdale ©Rogan Ward/Reuters

He added that although some people took the food, “Zuma’s supporters went and burned it.” In a huge warehouse in Cato Ridge near Hammarsdale, hundreds of people broke through fences and opened doors to rob Samsung TVs and other goods. Observers said that police officers who had run out of rubber bullets stood by and watched. A manager said that the clean-up work is underway, and the warehouse will remain and “raise the flag”, but the safety is higher.

Although the logistics opened again after the army and police ensured the supply routes, many people still have no income to buy enough food. At the beginning of 2021, the national unemployment rate just exceeded 32%. Nearly 48% of South African blacks and 74% of young people.

The riots prevented many people from obtaining affordable food. The company stated that nearly 120 ShopRite supermarkets in South Africa (approximately one in ten) were fired or robbed. The largest grocer in Africa added that it is “committed to rebuilding and resuming operations as quickly as possible.”

A woman stacks boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables
A woman stacks boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. The riots have prevented many people from accessing affordable food © Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty

Even before this month’s violence, the mix of political and criminal violence had disrupted Durban’s economy. Activists say that some officials from the ruling African National Congress and criminal groups have merged to protect the racket, asking companies to make concessions or take actions, and then fight for the spoils-and often kill people. Organizers of Abahlali were threatened for protesting ANC corruption.

At present, whether investors will reconsider their plans is worrying. “It’s very sad,” Musa Mkhize, a member of the local constituency of the ANC, said of the recent unrest. “This is a very good industrial field.”

He said that thousands of jobs are at stake. “This is a bad wake-up call, but we protect these investments 24/7…[They are]Help get the kids to school and put food on the table. .. 70% of the employees of these companies come from this field. “

Having failed to stop the robbery in the first place, the police have been raiding the towns and villages to recover the looted items-putting out refrigerators for cameras as if they were high-value drugs. But Mohapi said that all the things the police can seize from shanty towns such as Umgeni Park are “chicken, pressed powder, rice and diapers.” “No refrigerator.”


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