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By William Saunderson-Meyer

Journalist


SA on brink of another July 2021 civil unrest, Sasria CEO predicts

The CEO of Sasria delivers a chilling forecast for South Africa, hinting at a reprise of the 2021 civil unrest within the next six to seven years.


If you’re looking for dispassionate analysis, ignore the soothsayers – the politicians, the academics, the commentators. All are burdened with baggage that leans them either left or right.

For a straight-up answer on prospects and probabilities, seek out an insurance sector actuary. They know the market penalties of being too optimistic or pessimistic. No-one else will give you an as icily calculated and evenhanded answer.

Sasria – the state-owned enterprise (SOE) that underwrites all individuals, businesses and government entities that own assets in South Africa against civil commotion, public disorder, strikes, riots and terrorism – this week gave its unvarnished opinion on our future. Expect a rerun of the 2021 July civil unrest in the next half-dozen years, says its chief executive officer.

The SOE was set up by the insurance sector with the backing of the apartheid government in the wake of the explosion of violence and destruction that started in Soweto in July 1976. In the face of enormous losses arising from politically motivated civil disobedience and unrest, it became impossible to obtain or provide cover. Sasria was set up to insure the uninsurable, with the state as final guarantor against loss.

Sasria, which is legislatively mandated to investigate all risks “that can be considered to be of national interest”, made the startling but virtually unnoticed prediction during a parliamentary presentation this week.

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Briefing members of the select committee on finance, Sasria CEO Mpumelelo Tyikwe said SA was “likely, possibly, going to have another (July 2021) event within the next six to seven years”.

Sasria suffered a loss of R24 billion following the civil unrest and massive looting in the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal riots two years ago. The unrest, which President Cyril Ramaphosa described as an attempted insurrection, cost at least 360 lives and R70 billion in knock-on economic damage, plus two million lost jobs.

The 2021 unrest was a defining moment for Sasria, said Tyikwe.

“What was built in 1979, 42 years of work, was destroyed in 10 days … Sasria needs time to build up its reserves. So we can respond to an event of similar magnitude to that of July 2021.”

One wonders if Sasria fully comprehends the scale of the problem. SA is doubly at risk. It has not only to factor in violence against the state but also the enfeebled condition of the state after almost three decades of incompetent ANC governance.

ALSO READ: ‘Biggest in history’: State insurer blames police for R27bn loss from July riots

This was highlighted in this week’s release of details from a probe into the New Year’s Day razing of the National Assembly complex last year. It reveals staggering levels of public service incompetence and institutional paralysis.

The iconic building, erected in 1884, was destroyed by a single person – Zandile Mafe. The proceedings against the self-confessed arsonist are still limping along. Mafe was undetected in the Assembly and the administrative building adjoining it for more than a day. It was almost 26 hours after gaining entry that he set fire to the pile of boxes that started the conflagration.

Secretary of parliament Xolile George told the media briefing that the fire could have been prevented, or its extent limited, had routine measures been in place. Parliament did not meet minimum security and fire safety standards, never mind those demanded of a complex designated as a national key point.

During his State of the Nation Address last year, Ramaphosa said that “for many, what happened in parliament speaks to a broader devastation in our land”. For once, he is right.

It’s this great incalculable – the true scale of the destruction of capacity, morality and accountability in SA – that the insurance actuaries most need to factor into their calculations.

ALSO READ: Businesses to pay more for unrest insurance as Sasria adjusts premiums