South Africa

South African social unrest warning

South Africa is becoming increasingly fragile as it loses key social cohesion functions, risking increased violence, dissatisfaction and social unrest.

This is the view of Wits governance expert Professor Alex van den Heever, who told SABC News that South Africa is showing an increase in fragility. 

His comments come in light of the World Economic Forum identifying state fragility as one of the top five risks to South Africa in 2024.

Van den Heever explained state fragility as a country that is starting to lose key social cohesion functions in its society. This can cause a society to unravel and increase violence, unrest, and dissatisfaction. 

“It is absolutely important to protect social cohesion, but for that to happen, you need a functional government,” Van den Heever said. 

“You need a government that, when they’re going to spend on infrastructure, ensure that the money actually ends up in infrastructure and not in somebody’s pocket, which is what’s happening in South Africa.” 

He stressed that the country must develop and allocate expenditure to stabilise its urban settings and housing. 

“We have to get that to work, and if our government can’t function, those things fail,” he said. 

“That results in social segmentation and a decline in social cohesion, leading to general dissatisfaction that people have in their society.” 

“That’s where you start to see an increase in social unrest and fragility, demonstrated by increases in systemic violence.”

Van den Heever’s warning echoes water scientist Dr Anthony Turton, who has previously said that South Africa’s ongoing water shortages will result in social unrest as they risk destabilising the country’s economy, which cannot function without an adequate water supply. 

Turton said the water shortages experienced in many of the country’s regions are a national crisis that will have severe economic consequences. 

He explained that South Africa has enough water to comfortably supply the population and businesses. However, the water supply is being mismanaged, resulting in shortages in some parts of the country. 

“If we manage our water wisely, we certainly have enough to grow our economy and population. The problem is that we are not managing it wisely,” Turton said. 

An estimated 50% of the water from bulk water suppliers in South Africa does not reach the end consumer due to leakages, theft, and failing infrastructure. 

“It is not a water scarcity issue. It is an institutional failure issue,” Turton said. 


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