Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea


SA’s violent protests: ‘People are suffocating and we’ll soon have anarchy’

'Where protests are particularly disruptive, there is also the danger of counter-movements in retaliation, which can escalate conflict.'

Anger among South Africans over poor governance has boiled over, sparking a number of violent protests across SA, with experts saying: “People are frustrated; they need President Cyril Ramaphosa to step up and be a leader.”

Frustrations and growing discontent over load shedding, electricity price increases, water restrictions, crime and corruption have fuelled strikes which, according to student activist Nonhlanhla Mthembu, could be the start of a civil unrest.

‘Hungry and desperate’

Mthembu said little by little, South Africans would burn this country down “because they have nothing to lose. They are hungry and desperate”.

“South Africans are struggling to make ends meet, with inflation hitting record highs this year and interest rates showing no sign of slowing down. People are suffocating – and we’ll soon have anarchy,” she said.

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“With citizens feeling there’s nothing to lose there, will be more protests weekly, sometimes bringing hundreds of thousands of South Africans out to the streets screaming against what they perceive as the end of democracy.”

She counted the recent student protests from the University of the Witwatersrand, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Pretoria and Tshwane University of Technology, up to the striking workforce at Leratong Hospital and Helen Joseph Hospital and the planned Economic Freedom Fighters’ national shutdown, saying “this is a clear cry for help”.

Breakdown of the state

Pearl Pillay, managing director of the Youth Lab and a political commentator, said despite the fact that protests were not a new occurrence, added frustrations tipped over as people witness “what looks like the breakdown of the state”.

“We have a government leadership which doesn’t seem to have a sense of urgency. We have been hearing about the Cabinet reshuffle for a while now, the electricity crisis, education and just a bunch of unresolved issues.

“There’s general fatigue and frustration at being a South African and having to live through the kind of economic and socioeconomic issues we are facing.

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“But it’s being contrasted with a state leadership that just seems very relaxed. A lot of people say it seems like our party governing the country sees this as a side hustle.”

Pillay also said for the working class, it was just getting worse and “people in SA have always protested, so what is the difference now?”

“But it is indicative of a mass amount of frustration and the perception that it doesn’t seem like anything is getting better,” she added.

Violent protests due to political instability

According to a report by international insurance firm Allianz Global Corporate & Speciality (AGCS), some issues fuelling the risk of strikes and riots are political instability and the rising cost of living.

The report noted that countries with a high level of polarised politics, such as South Africa, were perceived by many to carry a higher risk of unrest.

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“Where protests are particularly disruptive, there is also the danger of counter-movements in retaliation, which can escalate conflict,” said Etienne Cheret, AGCS’ regional practice group leader.

“Specific incidences of civil unrest can be difficult to predict because they often start with a specific trigger, such as a change in government, new legislation or a sudden price rise.”

Government engagement

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso said the country was in deep trouble, with many leaders of several large companies frustrated.

“From the failure of local basic services to the young people coming out of the education system without the skills needed to work,” Mavuso said.

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“There is a growing feeling that we are not making headway in dealing with challenges because of a lack of government engagement.”

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union also weighed in and said if things remained as they are, their members would come out in numbers to the picket lines to send an unequivocal message to government.


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