EXPLANATOR: What caused the week of turmoil in South Africa?

The Crypto Daily - Movers and Shakers - May 5, 2021

The unrest spread within KwaZulu-Natal, where shopping malls and centers were ransacked by mobs that took food, electronics, clothes and liquor. Attacks on retail centers also spread inland to Gauteng province, to Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, and to Pretoria, the capital. In Durban and Pietermaritzburg, crowds attacked warehouses for major retailers and factories, which were set alight. Several burned until their roofs collapsed. The unrest lasted for a week until 25,000 army troops were deployed. HOW BAD WERE THE RIOTS?

WHAT TRIGGERED THE VIOLENCE? The unrest began on July 8 when former President Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. Supporters in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal set up roadblocks on major highways and burned about 20 trucks. The protests closed the N3 and N2 highways, which link the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richard’s Bay to the industrial hub of Johannesburg and to Cape Town. At least 215 people died in the unrest, and more than 2,500 were arrested on charges including theft and vandalism, according to government figures updated Monday.

The unrest was largely limited to the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, which together account for nearly 50% of South Africa’s GDP. The violence did not spread to South Africa’s other seven provinces. Extensive damage was done to 161 malls and shopping centers, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor stores and distributors, according to the government. An estimated 10 billion rand ($680 million) was lost in stolen goods, burned trucks and destroyed property, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

South Africa’s economy may sustain longer-term damage if domestic and international investors view the unrest as a sign that the country is not a safe destination for their capital. South Africa’s economy was already in recession, and the instability is expected to cause the economy to contract even further. The hardest hit will be South Africa’s poor, many of whom will not be able to buy food at competitive prices at the township shopping centers that have been closed or burned. People receiving monthly government grants, especially the elderly, will not be able to get them at centers that have been closed. WHAT CAUSED THE DEATHS? Police and government officials say many of the deaths were caused when people were crushed in stampedes during the chaotic ransacking of shops. At least 20 deaths occurred in the Phoenix area of KwaZulu-Natal, where residents were protecting their neighborhood from suspected intruders, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele. It is not known how many deaths were caused by police shooting at rioters.

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are investigating the deaths. WAS THE RIOTING SPONTANEOUS? After Zuma entered prison, numerous posts on social media encouraged protests, including attacks on highways and on retail centers. Six people have been arrested on charges of inciting violence, the government announced Monday without disclosing their identities. One of those arrested has been released on bail. Five are still in custody.

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