Most parts of South Africa have returned to normalcy, according to the president.

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The unrest that has swept through South Africa in the last week has subsided, and most of the affected areas have returned to normalcy, but the damage will cost the government millions of dollars, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

 

A child runs past a member of the South African Police Services (SAPS) while keeping watch during a joint operation with South African Defence Force (SANDF) to recover stolen goods from the looting in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, on July 16, 2021. -

A child runs past an armed South African Police officer keeping watch after looting in Johannesburg. Photo: AFP

Ramaphosa was addressing the nation over the rioting that broke out in several parts of the country last week, after his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was jailed for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry.

The unrest swiftly degenerated into looting, which has destroyed hundreds of businesses and killed more than 200 people, driven by widespread anger over the poverty and inequality that persist nearly three decades after the end of white minority rule.

Police have arrested more than 2500 people suspected of being involved in inciting violence and their cases are being prioritised, Ramaphosa said.

“It is our firm view that the deployment of our security forces, working together with communities and social partners across the country, will be able to restore order and prevent further violence,” he said.

“We will extinguish the fires that are raging, and stamp out every last ember.”

The president said using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts had sought to provoke a popular insurrection.

“They have sought to exploit the social and economic conditions under which many South Africans live,” he said.

Long-term costs

A member of SAPS shoots rubber bullets to disperse a crowd looting outside a warehouse storing alcohol in Durban on July 16, 2021,

A South African police officer shoots rubber bullets to disperse a crowd looting outside a warehouse storing alcohol in Durban. Photo: AFP

The long-term social and economic cost of the unrest is becoming clearer, with calls for the government to address underlying problems to head off more violence and despair.

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Wall Street bank JPMorgan said the unrest would force South Africa’s economy to contract by 3 percent in the third quarter and drag down full-year growth.

The head of the armed forces, Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya, addressing soldiers in Alexandra, Johannesburg, said: “It is no longer just thuggery, this is economic sabotage… It is a threat to our people so you have to restore that freedom.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation – a legacy of the late leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and South Africa’s first Black president – said violence had been growing at “disturbing levels” in the past two decades.

“There are too many people feeling discarded and in despair, too many people with nothing to lose, too many people who have seen political and other elites at all levels play fast and loose with the law, with impunity,” the foundation said.

Statistics South Africa head Risenga Maluleke said it could take years to rebuild damaged infrastructure, and small businesses “will find it difficult to rise from the ashes”.

This would lead to even more unemployment, he said. Most of the people in the streets were youths with few job prospects and limited education opportunities.

Half of South Africans live below the official poverty line and unemployment stood at a record 32 percent in the first three months of 2021, due partly to the impact of Covid-19.

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Poorly prepared

Police officers argue with members of the community next to a looted  warehouse storing alcohol in Durban on July 16, 2021,

Police officers argue with the community next to a looted warehouse in Durban. Photo: AFP

The president acknowledged that the country’s state security system was poorly prepared for the orchestrated campaign that destabilised the country.

“We must admit that we did not have the capabilities and plans in place to respond swiftly and decisively,” he said.

The ransacking of stores has led to shortages of essential goods.

State logistics group Transnet said operations at Durban and Richards Bay ports were improving although road closures and fuel and food shortages were constraining its supply chain. Richards Bay has cleared all its shipping backlogs.

Retailer Massmart said protesters had looted 41 of its stores and two distribution centres, with four sites damaged by arson.

Ramaphosa, however, said there was no shortage of food and supplies and urged people not to resort to panic buying.

He has authorised the deployment of 25,000 armed forces members, who will protect key installations and commercial sites vital to the functioning of the economy.

He ruled out that he would need to impose emergency in the country.

The official death toll stood at 180 in KwaZulu-Natal – Zuma’s homeland and main support base – and 32 in Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg, making a total of 212, Ramaphosa said.

The destruction of property and theft of goods had cost businesses, consumers and the country billions of rands, Ramaphosa said, and its impact would linger for “weeks and months to come.”

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Cedric Masondo, managing director of Sasria, a state-owned insurer, told Reuters on Wednesday that the claims for damage and theft from businesses affected by civil unrest were likely to top 10 billion rand ($NZ988 million), the highest amount the company has ever paid.

Court battle

Zuma, 79, was sentenced last month for defying an order to give evidence at a judicial inquiry probing high-level corruption during his time in office from 2009 to 2018.

He has pleaded not guilty in a separate case on charges including corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering, saying he is the victim of a political witch-hunt.

His downfall has opened up a power struggle within the African National Congress (ANC), which has been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994. Zuma loyalists make up the strongest faction opposed to Ramaphosa.

Zuma’s corruption trial will resume in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday.

– Reuters

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