The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) confirmed on Monday that it has commenced with ‘pre-deployment processes’ to send forces into violence-stricken KwaZulu-Natal, and also into Gauteng as a pre-emptive measure as protests have spread to Johannesburg – South Africa’s economic hub.
This follows an urgent appeal by the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (and other sectors) on Sunday night, which called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to deploy the SANDF in KwaZulu-Natal and declare the province to be in a “state of disaster” to curb the looting and violent demonstration in several parts of the region.
Initial violent protests on Friday morning, that included the burning of tyres and blocking major roads in Durban, were linked to the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma.
However, this has escalated to criminal activity with dozens of incidents of looting and destruction to property in the city and other parts of KZN.
SA National Defence Force Media Statement | Monday, 12 July 2021 | The SA National Defence Force to deploy soldiers in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces to assist Law Enforcement Agencies.#SANDF pic.twitter.com/ExlsUC4Lxk
— SA National Defence Force (@SANDF_ZA) July 12, 2021
The SANDF said that the request for assistance came from “the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure [Natjoints] to assist law enforcement agencies deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal to quell the unrest that has gripped both provinces in the last few days”.
It added: “The deployment will commence as soon as all deployment processes are in place… The duration and number of deploying soldiers will be determined based on the assessment of the situation on the ground by the relevant law enforcement agencies.”
JSE-listed retailers Shoprite, Spar, Massmart (Makro Sprinfield) and Pick n Pay stores were among those targeted by looters.
On Monday, the landlords of several major malls in the province decided to keep centres closed amid increasing safety concerns. Old Mutual’s Gateway Theater of Shopping, Growthpoint’s La Lucia Mall, Investec’s Cornubia Mall, Pareto’s The Pavilion and Liberty Two Degree’s Liberty Midlands Mall were all closed.
A competing but smaller community shopping centre near Liberty Midlands Mall along the N3 in Pietermarziburg was also set alight, according to local newspaper reports and visuals on social media.
Source: Make SA Safe, Facebook
Over the weekend, sporadic incidents of similar violent protests and looting were also reported in the Johannesburg CBD.
There have also been reports of trucks and other vehicles being set alight in KZN. This saw the eThekwini Municipality announce late on Sunday night that its municipal bus service will suspend operations on Monday as a precautionary measure. Taxi associations also suspended transport services in the province on Monday.
“Whilst we have noted the rapid responses by law enforcement, we call for further deployment,” Durban Chamber president Nigel Ward said in the latest statement.
“We are calling on our president to declare our province a state of disaster and deploy SANDF to come and assist,” he added.
“KwaZulu-Natal cannot afford for this disruptive behaviour to continue into the new week. The economic consequences will be detrimental and the impact on the economy will undoubtedly impact the country’s risk profile.”
Ward is executive vice president for manufacturing of Toyota South Africa (which has its plant in KZN), while the Durban Chamber is South Africa’s largest metropolitan business chamber.
“The recent protests have had a devastating impact on businesses, from Friday morning the traffic disruptions made it difficult for employees to commute to work with some businesses having to shut down their operations completely to minimise risk,” he said.
“This disruptive activity is damaging to the economic infrastructure, the threat on food security should be taken very seriously.
“Producers of essential foods have now decided to temporarily shutdown. Their onsite factories have had to stop production, due to the non-movement of stock, from Friday. This has had an impact on job security and livelihoods; as workers will have to stay home, be placed on short time or even retrenched,” he added.
Ward warned that if violent protests continue, with the burning of trucks and forced stoppages to factories operating, this would risk food supply and put further pressure on various industries.
— N3 Toll Concession (@N3Route) July 12, 2021
Durban and KZN is home to several major manufactures in including Unilever, RCL Foods and Willowton Group, amongst others. In addition more than 60% of SA’s imports and export come through the port of Durban, with the N3 highway being the country’s most important national road as it connects to the economic hub of Gauteng.
“The logistics sector as it stands has been hit severely hard. The number of trucks that have been burned over the past two-days, have caused other business owners in the industry to decide to ground their trucks, for the safety of their employees and the protection of their businesses,” Ward pointed out.
“The situation is intensifying, many major routes continue to be high-risk zones threatening the flow of traffic and lives.
“Furthermore, we strongly condemn the violent attacks that have been made on shopping centres and major retailers. We have received several reports in our city and province of several retailers that have been attacked. Such behaviour is deemed a criminal offence and undermines the rule of law,” he said.
President Ramaphosa also condemned the violence during his address to the nation around the extension of Level 4 Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday night, saying that over 60 people have been arrested.
“While there are those who may be hurt and angry at this moment, there can never be any justification for such violent, destructive and disruptive actions … It is a matter of concern to all South Africans that some of these acts of violence are based on ethnic mobilisation,” he said.
Ramaphosa reiterated that the culprits would face the full might of the law and would be arrested and prosecuted.
Both the president and eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda have called for calm.