The #ShutdownSA protests sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma are ongoing. Minister of police, Bheki Cele assured South Africans the protest action will be contained. President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed the South African Defence Force (SADF)’s deployment to hot spots in Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng. The Daily Vox spoke to analysts who weighed in on questions around the current protests.
Would you say that protests like this always originate in the the same areas, the way xenophobic violence always erupts in hostels?
Karen Heese, an economist at Municipal IQ says violent protests often erupt in similar locations but they can emerge in new localities. The key features of these areas are often ones with considerable economic pressure. These are things that drive inequality like unemployment, Heese said.
Bheki Mahlobo, an analyst and economic researcher at the Centre For Risk Analysis said he noticed the current protests are happening in low-income areas, where law enforcement is non-existent – to mitigate the unrest.
“This also exposes the government’s inability to govern and maintain law and order in the country,” Mahlobo said. Then there is also the fact that South Africa’s economic growth lags behind other emerging markets, Mahlobo added.
What would you say caused these protests?
“Some of the protesters made clear that they identified with a campaign to free former President Jacob Zuma from prison. This would suggest some degree of organisation,” said Heese. But in other cases especially in the past 24 hours, there appears to be a greater focus simply on looting than destabilising national roads/imposing a shutdown for political ends, she said.
“The scale of protests is unlikely to be entirely random,” Heese added.
Mahlobo said the #ZumaArrest triggered protest action, but there are multiple variables at play.
Economically excluded people make up 11.4 million of all South Africans. The people are unemployed under the expanded definition. This definition includes people who are discouraged workers; they have given up looking for work.The suspension of the Covid-19 support grants, rising food and fuel prices have left many especially poor households in desperate positions.
“The protests we are seeing here are simply a means of which people are expressing their frustration. They are not seeing a strong opposition to the ANC. So they express their frustration out of the political sphere, and into the streets which negatively impacts the South African economy,” Mahlobo said. Many people lost their jobs last year during hard lockdown, and unfortunately looting is the only option when you are desperate and have no income, Mahlobo said.
Many civil society organisations have called for the implementation of the basic income grant to assist people. In August 2020, minister Lindiwe Zulu said the implementation of such a grant would not be possible before March 2021. The proposed amount for the grant ranges between R500 (government) to R12 500 (activist groups). But even with the current situation, the government hasn’t made mention of any kind of assistance for people. Besides the security aspect of the protests, there has been no mention of the socio-economic impact and assistance.
What can we expect in the next few weeks?
Heese said: “It will all depend on policing and the containment of violence.” With more arrests being made, there will be a drop in protests. It can also lead to simmering tensions for some time in affected communities, Heese said.
“There won’t be an intensification of the current protests, but we might see more in the future and on a larger scale. The core issues are not being addressed by the government. The only way out is to grow the South African economy,” Mahlobo said.