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LOCAL GOVERNMENT: More Election Violence Could Add to the Already Immense Cost Of Protests, Violence & Unrest in SA


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With more violence being anticipated around next week’s local elections, it could add to the staggering cost South Africa is already absorbing at every level from political violence to community protests, student unrest, xenophobic violence and other protests and unrest. And more violence, unrest and protests are expected in the longer term.

According to a report just released, Political Violence, Civil Protests and Unrest Report 2016, the cost to the country not only runs into billions of rands, but the violence and unrest since early 2015 has also had enormous adverse impacts on education at all levels, municipal service delivery, industrial relations, national infrastructure, labour relations and jobs, political stability, business and investor confidence, social cohesion and stability and the lives of millions of people.

“More violence is likely before or even after next week’s elections. But worse still, in the longer term, we anticipate that community protests around service delivery and other issues, will again reach very high levels in 2016 with much destruction of municipal infrastructure, while we will probably also see more student protests, labour-related protests and violence, xenophobic violence, and destruction of vital infrastructure, among others,” says Stef Terblanche, political risk analyst who authored the report.

“While figures are periodically released for specific incidents such as for example the damage caused to campuses by protesting students, or schools burn down during a specific protest action, it is only when one views the cumulative effect of all forms of violence, rioting, protests and unrest together that the real cost becomes evident.

“And that cost is not only financial, but impacts negatively on so many other levels as well.”

Considering just a part of the cost, for example:

- Figures since October 2015 for damage to university campuses put the cost at R460 million, but it is probably considerably more by now;
- On top of that government has had to come up with an unbudgeted R16.2 billion related to student fees, in-sourcing of all university services could cost universities between R400 million and R2 billion, plus millions more to address the student accommodation crisis;
- The cost to repair or replace damaged or destroyed schools countrywide since last year could be much higher than an estimated R400 - R500 million, while 60,000 to 80,000 or more pupils have been affected;
- Thousands of workers have been adversely affected and productive man-hours lost due to railway carriages being destroyed at a replacement cost of well over an estimated R252 million, while taxi wars, sometimes connected to politically motivated unrest, produce similar results;
- Municipal service delivery in municipalities already struggling to deliver has been further reduced with the destructions of hundreds of buildings and other infrastructure, with costs already running into billions;
- Since 2009 some 18 public libraries have been burnt down at a cost of around R50-R60 million, with much of the content being irreplaceable and the value to already underserviced communities being forever lost;
- Insurance claims received by SASRIA for damage caused by service delivery protests in the 2015-2016 financial year amounted to 67% of all claims;
- In the 2014/15 year strike-related claims amounted to R395.5 million, not counting the cost to the economy and workers of lost production and wages, or damages caused during workers’ actions off-site such as marches;
- While no exact figures are available, to these actions can be added the immense cost to police and emergency services having to respond to the unrest and violence, while it also adds to the service provision and costs burden of public hospitals and other health facilities;
- Many hundreds of foreigners have been displaced, have had to be rehoused, or have lost their businesses through xenophobic violence;
- The Institute for Economics and Peace put the total cost of violence in South Africa in 2015 at US$124.3 billion PPP (R1,770.8 trillion June 2016 $/R exchange rate)‚ or 19% of GDP and 6.3% higher than the global figure;
- Every credible confidence barometer, all the major credit rating agencies, and global institutions like the World Bank, IMF and World Economic Forum stress the protests, political instability and violence as being major factors inhibiting investment and business confidence in South Africa, thus impacting negatively on economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation;
- Social stability is being threatened by a perceivable increase in racial and to some extent tribal relations; and more.

“There is a strong possibility of more political violence related to the elections next week occurring, especially if vote-rigging irregularities are perceived, results are delayed or disputed, or politicians make inflammatory statements,” says Terblanche.

While worsening race relations have been noticeable due to high social media traffic and mainstream media attention, the reappearance of tribal tensions underlying or partially connected to some protest actions goes largely unnoticed despite prominent politicians such as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa and former President Thabo Mbeki, among others, raising this issue.

The report also analyses the incidence, impacts and potential future trends of transformation and legacy-related protests, the “restless youth” factor, vigilantism, land and water conflicts, taxi wars, and the underlying socio-economic pressures behind much of the unrest and violence.

“The big danger signals are ongoing high unemployment, inequality, poverty and especially the high youth unemployment rate,” says Terblanche.

But the protests, unrest and violence is not unique to South Africa. Rising civil and political unrest, mass protests, populist movements and socio-political upheaval in South Africa fit a global pattern of increases in such phenomena, with numerous countries around the world experiencing similar upheavals over the past 18 months on varying scales and with varying intensities.

In South Africa, as elsewhere globally, there is a growing trend towards more populist politics, with socio-political demands being taken to the streets and in communities rather than to formal representative political systems and institutions, underlining a growing loss of faith in formal political leadership, systems and institutions.

“Since mid-2000 protests have been increasing in every part of the world and in every type of political and economic context with similar broad causal patterns around the world, but defined by local triggers in each country and not by transnational issues.”

Finally, the report also points out the real risk of current global terrorism coming to South Africa. Substantial conditions exist in South Africa that could be conducive to the country becoming a target for attacks by extremist terror groups in terms of logistical potential, community profiles, recruitment potential, infiltration and high-value targets with Western linkage. Although no actual attacks have yet taken place, the number of incidents in South Africa related to terror organisations has been increasing. The question is to what extent South Africa’s intelligence and security systems are prepared for and capable of dealing with such a threat.

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