A tense week for SA as riot warnings issued ahead of election

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Traffic on the N2 and N3 in Durban was brought to a standstill on Friday by taxi drivers protesting the impounding of taxis by police.

With elections just two days away, the South African Police Service (SAPS) is on high alert in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, where 43 licensed firearms have been confiscated.

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Listen: ‘South Africans need to take their vote seriously’

While these protests appear opportunistic, there are fears that political operatives will seize the opportunity to escalate tensions, especially if it is found that voting did not go their way once the results are announced.

These fears have been heightened following the Constitutional Court ruling a week ago that former president Jacob Zuma, the face of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP), may appear on the ballot papers but may not serve in parliament due to his June 2021 conviction for contempt of court.

Though government appears to be downplaying the threats of violence around the elections, Fidelity and FirstRand have both issued warnings of potential riots in the coming days.

There were also unconfirmed social media reports of breaches of Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) ballot storage sites in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape.

At a media briefing on Sunday, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) said it has implemented an early warning system to detect and identify all security risks ahead of the election.

The threatened truck strike a week ago was called off at the last-minute following intervention by Natjoints and government officials. The All-Truck Drivers Forum and Allied SA (ATDF-SA) threatened to disrupt traffic until the government meets its demands to rid the country of foreigners in the trucking industry.

Read: Suspended: Trucker forum’s national shutdown

“The transport industry is once again urged to hold peaceful talks amongst each other and to find ways of amicably resolving their disputes,” said Natjoints in a statement.

“They are also reminded that the blocking of roads as a way of venting is a criminal offence and law enforcement agencies will act decisively against anyone be found to be in contravention with the law. Their vehicles will be impounded, and they will be brought before court to answer to crimes committed. No one is above the law and the rule of law will always be applied according to relevant prescripts.”

Warnings

Business appears to be bracing for trouble both before and after the election. A leaked internal memo from banking group FirstRand warned that it expected protest action by some MKP members in May and June, and there was a risk of repeating the 2021 unrest that rocked KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng when Zuma was sentenced to prison.

Those riots were reckoned to have cost the economy about R50 billion.

According to News24, the risks cited by FirstRand include intimidation, malicious damage to property, arson, barricading of roads, looting, hijacking of trucks, and political violence. The provinces most at risk are KwaZulu-Natal and, to a lesser extent, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

The Free State, Northern Cape, North West and Limpopo were also cited as potential hotspots.

KwaZulu-Natal SAPS spokesperson Colonel Robert Netshiunda asked FirstRand to share whatever information it has with police intelligence so that proper planning could be done, and to assess whether the information could be substantiated.

Fidelity Business Intelligence issued a notice of its own, warning that several parts of the country – mainly in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Free State and Mpumalanga – were at risk of violence similar to that seen in 2021.

While some MKP members have been more strident in their reaction to the Constitutional Court ruling, the party itself adopted a more measured response.

“The MK Party acknowledges the Constitutional Court judgment, that President Zuma is not eligible to stand as a member of MK Party in the National Assembly,” it said.

“This unsurprising decision has not disheartened us.

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“It reinforced our conviction that the current system, where 10 unelected individuals can make lifetime decisions for 62 million people, is flawed.

“Also, 6 of the 10 judges were conflicted but refused to recuse themselves.

“We assure South Africans that we remain steadfast and undeterred by the enemies of the poor, whether they be in robes or acting as agents of white monopoly capital.”

Read:
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South African assets primed for post-election rally, but old challenges persist

In an April analysis, the Institute for Security Studies says while threats of violence cannot be ignored, the state appears to be taking them more seriously than in 2021.

Apart from tensions between the ANC and MKP, there are under-reported tensions between the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party.

The post-election period is also likely to be tense as polls show the ANC winning less than 50% of the vote. Losing political parties may take to the streets to ramp up pressure as many parts of the country enter the era of coalition government.

Police are reportedly monitoring key highways for potential signs of trouble, particularly from truckers, who were key instigators of the 2021 riots. More than 200 foreign truck drivers have been murdered in SA in recent years, prompting a complaint by foreign truckers associations at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague in the Netherlands, which says it is monitoring the situation of foreign drivers in SA.

The Department of Home Affairs appears to have been stepping up its campaign against illegal immigrants over the past 12 months, resulting in the arrest of 67 853 illegal immigrants and 2 504 employers for contravening the Immigration Act.

Several parties are campaigning against illegal foreigners amid claims that they are responsible for much of what is wrong in SA, from official unemployment sitting at about 33% and rampant crime.

Human rights bodies and diplomats have warned of the potential for xenophobia around the elections.

This week’s elections are likely to be the most tightly contested in the last 30 years, with some 70 political parties and 11 independent candidates vying for seats in parliament.

Economic implications

Capital Economics notes that SA looks set to herald a new era of coalition government.

“There are lots of permutations ranging from a centrist ANC-DA coalition to a so-called ‘doomsday coalition’ in which the ANC teams up with the left-wing EFF (although we suspect that some of the EFF’s more radical proposals would never see the light of day),” it says.

“One broader point is that, whichever parties govern, a more fragmented parliament is likely to make the jobs of stabilising the public finances and tackling structural economic problems even more difficult.

“During the next parliamentary term, we think the public debt ratio will continue to rise while GDP growth will stay weak at around 1.0-1.5% a year.”

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