South Africa will continue to experience high levels of social and political instability in 2024 until the national election and possibly beyond 2024 due to a stagnant economy and high unemployment.
This is feedback from Astral Foods chairman Theuns Eloff, who wrote in the food producer’s annual report that its financial year to 2023 was its most challenging year on record.
Astral and the wider poultry industry suffered the worst outbreak of bird flu in South African history in 2023, costing the company R2.1 billion.
Eloff also lamented the impact of load-shedding on the company’s performance, forcing “all available spend being channelled towards alternative sources of energy”.
One of Eloff’s main concerns was that the South African economy had stagnated, with negligible economic growth.
This has severe knock-on effects for consumers as their income stagnates while inflation and interest rates remain high.
“Soaring unemployment rates, deteriorating consumer spend, and a weak currency are all proving detrimental to any real growth,” Eloff wrote.
“All these macroeconomic factors, outside of management’s control, make for a bleak outlook.”
This bleak outlook is compounded by the prospect of heightened social and political instability leading up to next year’s election.
“We expect that the socio-political instability in South Africa will continue until the National Election in 2024, and possibly beyond that,” Eloff warned.
Eloff’s comments echo those of governance expert Dr Sam Koma, who said earlier this year that social unrest would pick up in intensity prior to the election.
Koma said service delivery protests tend to ramp up before the 2024 elections. According to Municipal IQ, the number of service-delivery protests in South Africa will reach a new annual record in 2023.
Protest action picks up because communities know politicians will be forced to do something about their demands as they need votes for the upcoming elections.
Koma said most South Africans face a cost of living crisis, forcing them to forfeit some of their basic needs while unemployment, poverty, and inequality remain elevated.
When this is coupled with communities saying they have been raising service delivery demands to local municipalities and politicians, but no action has been taken, protest is their only option.
“Increasingly, they sense that they are not being listened to. This is when they would normally decide to embark on a protest to register this displeasure with local government and politicians,” Koma said.
Koma warned that these protests tend to turn violent as the police fail to respond appropriately due to capacity constraints and a lack of information within the security cluster.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) has admitted previously that they are facing severe capacity constraints.
Koma said the police currently have 5,500 members of the public order policing division, while the ideal operational strength is around 13,000.
“This must be understood as one of the contributing deficiencies facing the police in terms of handling a large crowd and responding appropriately to protests.”