Various industry representative bodies have warned that the food security of South Africa is at risk if the looting and violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are not stopped.
Among those sounding the alarm are the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA), Agri SA, and the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“Looters are targeting retail shops including liquor stores and have stolen merchandise which includes foodstuffs, electrical products and clothing,” the CGCSA said in a statement.
“CGCSA is particularly concerned about the potential impact of the disruptions on food security in the country and various supply chain issues. This is because factories will not be able to produce, resulting in food shortages, which will affect the most vulnerable and poor most.”
The Consumer Goods Council said it is also concerned that small and independent retailers are being targeted.
“Where will people in townships get food when everything is destroyed?” the industry body said.
“The loss to retailers, including the cost of damage to property and delivery vehicles, runs into millions of rand and has already severely affected their operations. The potential impact on business viability and job security is also a serious cause for concern.”
CGCSA said that although the ability to protest peacefully is a constitutional right, when it degenerates into violence, destruction of property, and business disruption, it should be firmly dealt with by the law enforcement agencies.
It welcomed the strong condemnation of the violence by President Ramaphosa and the decision by the government to deploy the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) in the affected areas to assist the police.
“This will send a clear message that lawlessness will not be tolerated neither will be any attempt to disrupt economic and social life through violence and looting,” the CGCSA stated.
CGCSA said it is worried that the disruption to business activity and destruction of commercial property will further delay the economy’s recovery from successive Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and affect the already fragile investor and business confidence in South Africa.
“The fact that the government has extended the lockdown for another 14 days, with liquor sales remaining banned, is not helping the situation and will worsen the financial crisis facing liquor retailers and those in the value chain,” it warned.
Agri SA further warned that the violence and looting were affecting agriculture amidst the peak citrus production season. Large volumes of citrus to the value of approximately R592 million have to be transported weekly to the Durban harbour, the organisation said.
“Any disruption could lead to financial losses for producers and will prevent the products from reaching international markets on time,” said Agri SA president Pierre Vercueil.
Vercueil said that Agri SA has also received reports that sugarcane fields and other crops have been set alight in KwaZulu-Natal. Producers are unable to extinguish the fires as they fear for their lives.
The situation has also affected livestock farmers whose feedstocks have been set alight, while various sawmills have also been closed, the organisation stated.
“Further reports indicate that the police cannot provide producers with the necessary protection and in some instances do not know how to deal with the situation,” said Vercueil.
Vercueil said that the situation in South Africa no longer has anything to do with peaceful protest but is being exploited to destroy the country’s infrastructure and threaten the lives of ordinary citizens.
Agri SA appealed to the Presidency to declare a national state of emergency to bring an end to the riots.
“The looting of shops, stoning of cars, blocking of roads, burning of trucks and crops as well as theft of livestock are posing a serious threat to food security in the country,” said Christo van der Rheede, executive director of Agri SA.
“South Africa runs the risk of people not being able to buy or access food. This will lead to hunger and starvation on a national scale, which in turn will fuel even more social unrest and mayhem.”
Van der Rheede said it is clear that criminals have no regard for law and order and that they will loot, destroy and steal non-stop until there is nothing left.
Nigel Ward, president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, echoed the sentiment but called for President Ramaphosa to declare the province a state of disaster rather than a national state of emergency.
“This disruptive activity is damaging to the economic infrastructure. The threat to food security should be taken very seriously,” Ward said.
“Producers of essential foods have now decided to temporarily shut down. 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.”
Ward said that this is a national crisis.
“No food means more poverty in our country — we are already dealing with the poverty that has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the job security threat will increase the numbers of crime statistics.”
Ward said that the logistics sector as it stands had been hit severely.
“The number of trucks that have been burnt 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.”
Main image credit: Masego Mafata, GroundUp, CC BY-ND 4.0