from TINTSWALO BALOYI in Johannesburg, South Africa
JOHANNESBURG – THE already-stressed economy is taking a dual hit from the extension of Level 4 restrictions and deadly protests as the political tensions in South Africa spill into the streets and are hijacked by criminal elements.
Anxiety has gripped the country after emotions that preceded the arrest and jailing of the former president, Jacob Zuma, inevitably boiled over in recent days.
The divisive veteran politician (79) is serving 15 months for contempt of court.
This has assumed a criminal dimension with the looting of malls and shops, destruction of infrastructure and the closure of one of South Africa’s major trade routes – the N3.
KwaZulu-Natal, the home province of Zuma, is the epicentre of the anarchy that has since spread to the economic hub of Gauteng.
More than 200 suspects had been arrested by Monday morning.
The fragile economy, already inundated by the impact of the most severe outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the continent, is bearing the brunt.
The rand currency has subsequently taken a knock, shedding 2 percent of its value at the opening of trade on Monday.
At the time of publication, it was trading at 14,46 percent to the United States greenback.
As of the weekend, the damage to property due to disturbances in KwaZulu-Natal was estimated at around R100 million (US$6,9 million).
Taxis were not operating in KwaZulu-Natal as a result of the protests.
The escalation of the vandalism and theft on Monday renders the figure an under-estimation.
“The extent of damage to property and the looting of businesses will be determined at a later stage,” the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJOINTS) stated.
“It is difficult to tell which is the greater emergency in South Africa right now,” the economist, Siobhan Redford, said.
“…The riots, which have resulted in significant property damage, looting and affected the movements of goods along an important trade corridor, or the continued spread of COVID-19 which has led to a two-week extension of the adjusted risk-adjusted level 4 restrictions.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening announced his government maintained the restrictions.
During his “family meeting”, he denounced the violence and looting. The army has been deployed to retain normalcy.
“Let us be clear, as a nation, that we will not tolerate acts of criminality. Those who are involved in acts of violence will be arrested and prosecuted,” Ramaphosa said during a televised address.
Community members, some armed, were not deterred and spent Monday engaged in running battles with law enforcers. In some parts of the sprawling and largely impoverished Soweto, the outnumbered police watched the free-for-all helplessly.
Redford said it was probable that the fallout from the protests was largely going to be jobs, as shops close down temporarily or permanently, “this in a country that can ill-afford the loss of any jobs.”
“It is important that such lawlessness, regardless of the reason, is shut down fast,” she said.
– CAJ News