South Africa is no stranger to protests, and they are often related to issues of service delivery – such as a lack of water or electricity supply – or labour disputes over wage increases and retrenchments.
The serious economic ramifications of the lockdown could lead to even greater desperation among South African communities, however, with the effects of unemployment and poverty spreading to more households.
In recent weeks, reports have surfaced of residents of Mitchells Plain in Cape Town clashing with the police during protests over food shortages.
Experts who spoke to MyBroadband warned this may only be the first of such instances set to come.
Head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies Jakkie Cilliers, said the threat of violence over a lack of food and income is real.
“The reality is simply that poor people in informal settlements have no option but to find ways of getting food and sustenance on the table. So I think there is a significant threat and concern about this,” he noted.
Cilliers said a letter in which President Cyril Ramaphosa requested Parliament to approve the deployment of additional SANDF soldiers demonstrated the government anticipated big problems.
“I think the decision to deploy over 70,000 members of the SANDF makes it very clear that government is very worried about the potential of food riots and broad criminal activity,” Cilliers said.
He noted that the problem with this type of violence in South Africa is that it tends to quickly gain momentum and spill over into large areas of informal settlements.
“The intention with the SANDF deployment is to try and make sure that you don’t have that momentum, that you squash it right at the start,” he explained.
However, the “perilous” state of the SANDF may serve to worsen the situation, he added.
“That size of deployment is unprecedented and those military officials are not trained and prepared for this,” Cilliers said.
“So I think we are gonna see significant tensions and a rising number of issues about how the military acts in trying to clamp down on this.”
Cilliers said food availability will be a major issue driving social unrest after the lockdown.
“I don’t think organised labour protests will happen, but protests about the lack of work and lack of food is going to be a huge issue.”
This will most likely be a problem in areas where violence has historically taken place, such as in townships and informal settlements – where poverty and unemployment are rife.
The points of attack would be places where there are perceived to be food and resources.
“We are going to see the kind of attacks we’ve seen on delivery vans, maybe on spaza shops, and so on,” Cilliers said.
He warned that as with instances in 2008, 2015, and 2019, rioters may blame their actions on foreigners once again.
“It could again take a xenophobic orientation, as we have seen in the past because it’s always easier to scapegoat,” he stated.
Heese added she was hopeful the increased grant measures announced by the president on 21 April would help mitigate the protesting.