South Africa

Social unrest hits parts of South Africa

Social unrest linked to load-shedding and power outages has started to hit parts of South Africa as citizens fed up with power cuts take to the streets.

Residents in KwaThema in the East Rand blocked roads and burned tires in frustration with prolonged electricity blackouts in the area.

SABC News reported that the township is a no-go area, with vehicles being turned back and sometimes stoned.

There are no police or emergency services in sight which leaves motorists and other affected people on their own.

Many similar protests have taken place in recent weeks, including in eMalahleni, Standerton, Soweto, and Buccleuch.

Last week, residents from Buccleuch and Waterfall protested outside Eskom’s Megawatt Park over persistent power outages in the area.

These residents waved placards with messages like “Minister of Darkness” and “We Want Power” and dumped rotten food at the Megawatt Park gate.

Earlier this month, eMalahleni residents blockaded the N4 and set tyres on fire because of prolonged power outages in the area.

The protestors also torched vehicles, vandalised infrastructure, and ransacked the eMalahleni FM offices.

When the executive mayor of eMalahleni Local Municipality, Conny Nkalitshana, and other officials tried to intervene through a meeting, they were attacked and stoned by protesters.

Last week, residents in Standerton gathered in the courtyard of the municipal building to protest against water and electricity interruptions.

Other protestors took their frustration to the streets and burned tyres, blocked roads, and called for a shutdown.

Similar service delivery protests took place in other areas around the country, including Eldorado Park in Gauteng and Ventersburg in the Free State.

Unrest and riot warnings from experts

Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman
Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman

The increase in protests related to poor service delivery, specifically power outages and water shortages, should not come as a surprise.

Many experts have warned that South Africa is facing significant social challenges, which will lead to social unrest and riots.

PwC’s 26th Global CEO Survey for 2023 revealed that over two-thirds of Southern African CEOs expect to face disruptions from social unrest in the next 12 months.

Allianz’s Social Risk Index (SRI) has also identified South Africa as “highly vulnerable to social unrest in the next 18 months”.

The Centre for Risk Analysis has also warned that South Africa faces a winter of social unrest as sustained power outages limit economic growth and job creation.

According to Municipal IQ, the volume of protests in South Africa surged at the beginning of 2023. The surge was mainly attributable to increased load-shedding.

Political analyst JP Landman said poor economic growth, unemployment, and elevated inflation have created fertile ground for social unrest.

He said that given South Africa’s problems and the cleavages in society, it is unlikely that the country will not experience outbursts of riots and looting.

“We will have another Marikana. We will have another July 2021,” said Landman.

Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt is equally concerned about rising poverty levels and poor economic growth.

Roodt said the high levels of poverty and unemployment with rising food costs is a recipe for mass unrest and disorder. It puts South Africa on the brink of disaster.

“My biggest fear is that a spark can make the situation explode. It is a highly volatile situation waiting to explode,” he said.

Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and numerous business leaders have warned that South Africa faces social unrest and riots.

Ntshavheni said crime, corruption, high levels of load-shedding, and unemployment pose risks to national security.

Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman and CEO Pieter Boone said the entire food industry in South Africa is under existential threat because of load-shedding and government inaction.

“The probability of social unrest relating to food shortages and possible store closures, if blackouts get too high, is now heightened,” Ackerman said.

Boone said when people struggle to get food and water, it causes severe social problems and can lead to civil unrest.


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