September 27, 2021

South Africa fears shortages, thousands of troops deployed to prevent looting

After the violence, the specter of shortages. Fear of running out of fuel and food has gripped South Africans on day six of the violence that has already left at least 117 dead, amid rampant unemployment and new anti-Covid restrictions.

The government said 208 incidents involving looting and vandalism were recorded on Wednesday, while 5,000 troops, a number that doubled on Wednesday, were deployed as reinforcements.

Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula later told parliament on Wednesday July 14 that she had ‘submitted a request for the deployment of around 25,000’ soldiers. She did not specify when these reinforcements could be operational.

Shortage

On the ground, at dawn, the lines stretched out in front of gas stations and in front of food stores, especially in Durban, in Kwazulu-Natal.

The day before, the country’s largest refinery closed its plant in the region, which supplies about a third of the fuel consumed in the country. Some stations are already dry, others are rationing at the pump. Shortages are to be feared ‘in the coming days or weeks’, warned the motorists association.

Farmers have said they can no longer move their goods, the main road and railroad connecting the economic capital Johannesburg and the east being blocked or insecure.

‘We are going to face a massive humanitarian crisis,’ warned the director of the main agricultural organization AgriSA, Christo van der Rheede.

Scarcity of basic necessities

Several regions could ‘soon run out of basic necessities’, food, fuel and medicines because of supply difficulties, the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement.

During the night, the Vosloorus shopping center, about thirty kilometers south of Johannesburg, was devastated and partly burned down. Several bodies were found there. In the afternoon, armed taxi drivers decided to get involved and scared the looters away.

Shot down, Mike De Freitas, 45, manager of a butcher’s shop, comes to see the exact extent of the damage. ‘We spend our lives serving a community and this is what we get in return. It breaks my heart to see that what I have built is completely destroyed, ‘he told AFP.

In Kwazulu-Natal, sugar cane fields have been burned down. Elsewhere, stolen cattle. ‘People have looted the shops, and now that they have no more food, they will start attacking the farms,’ warns Mr van der Rheede.

Looting

‘The people who are looting at the moment will pay the price, with job losses but also delays in supplies,’ warned economist Lumkile Mondi. According to the consumer goods regulator, more than 800 stores have been looted.

For several days, Kwazulu-Natal and the economic capital of the country Johannesburg have been caught in a whirlwind of violence, in a country exhausted by an economy weighed down by a record unemployment rate (32.6%) and a third wave of pandemic.

‘Firmness’

King Misuzulu Zulu, a moral authority respected by some 11 million Zulus, the majority ethnic group in the country, called for ‘peace’, saying the violence ‘shames’ those who commit it.

The first incidents erupted the day after the incarceration last week of former President Jacob Zuma, sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of justice. A spark then fed by economic frustrations and poverty.

The African Union (AU) condemned ‘in the strongest terms the outbreak of violence which has resulted in the death of civilians and appalling scenes of looting’, calling for ‘an urgent restoration of order’.

In some neighborhoods, residents have organized themselves to ensure the security of their stores. They formed human chains to protect shopping centers, giving rise, here and there, to violent slippages, AFP noted. The authorities have warned against any attempt to ‘take justice into your own hands’.