Joburg residents begin clean-up campaign but experts warn of possible Covid-19 spike
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Johannesburg - On the streets and in the malls of Joburg, the clean up has begun, shouldered by thousands of citizens who are helping the government face the worst constitutional crisis this young democracy has faced.
It is not just the massive clean up, others are helping gather supplies, including bread, to be flown to Kwazulu-Natal to help alleviate food shortages.
In Gauteng, the looting and violence has subsided as increasing numbers of army personnel are seen on the streets.
For politicians, it was a time for walkabouts, to assess the damage done, and count the costs.
Yesterday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura was part of a mop-up operation at the Tembisa Mall, one of a series of shopping centres that fell prey to looters since the outbreak of violent protests.
Here, attackers armed with an assortment of weapons, destroyed several ATMs.
The robbers were allegedly also responsible for the looting of 54 retail shops at the mall, which the premier pointed out contributed R2.5 million in rates and services to the City of Ekurhuleni every month. These stalls also employed 800 people from the surrounding area.
Makhura promised that his government and law enforcement agencies would be on high alert to prevent other similar attacks.
“We do not want another surprise. We are not going to tolerate another form of violence and destabilisation. We will be on high alert,” he said.
But with the billions of Rand of damage caused by the unrest, economists are predicting that the country is in for a rough ride for the foreseeable future.
The looting, they say, adds to layers of crisis that the country is already facing. These include rising national debt, state incapacity, falling confidence and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The country’s fuel crisis is also set to continue indefinitely, and frequent blackouts are also expected if looting and violence continue.
Wits University economist Dr Kenneth Creamer believes it will take years for South Africa to recover economically.
“What has happened in the last few days will make the building-up of South Africa much harder to achieve.”
A big concern is what effect the turmoil will have on the continuing third wave of the pandemic, which has hit Gauteng particularly hard. Gauteng’s infection rates had fallen drastically following the introduction of the level four lockdown.
Professor Alex van den Heever, who holds the Chair in the field of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at the Wits School of Governance, believes that in two or three weeks, there could be a spike in the infection rate, which could reverse the gains made by the lockdown as a result of the looting sprees with the large gathering of people of all ages.
Also impacted during this period was Covid-19 testing and the vaccination roll-out programme. Another concern is the lasting effect the looting would have on the country’s ability to fight crime.
Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), warned that it could inadvertently result in a spike in other crimes.
Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said that their officers were unable to enforce any regulations.
“We have had to scale down some of our other operations like the setting up of roadblocks.”
For Durbanites, yesterday saw the return of some normality. This as additional army deployments arrived in the city, together with heavy guarded tankers carrying fuel and food relief trucks.
By Thursday and Friday, details of local small farm holdings and community suppliers of essentials, such as bread and milk, eggs and fresh vegetables, were being shared widely on WhatsApp groups, while long queues formed outside major retailers.
Yesterday morning, President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in Durban under the protection of a heavy security detail.
With him was a delegation of ministers who met business and community leaders.
“Police will go after instigators – we have identified a good number of them. We are not going to allow anarchy, so much damage has been done,” he said.
Yesterday at a press briefing, the minister in the presidency, Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, said that the number of arrests linked to the looting had climbed to 2550. The death toll was now at 212.
Also among the arrested was one of the 12 believed to be instigators who security forces allege organised and encouraged the looting. Another of the alleged instigators, Thulani Dlomo, was said to have handed himself over to police.
He is the former head of the State Security Agency’s Special Operations Unit and has denied wrongdoing. The police had yet to confirm that he had handed himself in.
The security operations, it was revealed yesterday in Parliament, have been costly.
Briefing the police portfolio committee, SAPS head of strategic management, Major-General Leon Rabie, said the expenditure to be incurred was provisionally estimated to be approximately R350 million.
Rabie said the direct additional expenditure included overtime allowance, night shift allowances, remuneration of reservists being called up, meal allowances when deployed away from the normal place of work, accommodation and incidental allowance when being accommodated.
But as a sense of normality slowly returns, security and intelligence structures have already started the painful process of examining just how they were caught so unprepared.
The South African Police Services national commissioner General Khehla Sitole yesterday said that he would be releasing a post-mortem report once everything had stabilised.
– Additional reporting by Tanya Waterworth and Mayibongwe Maqhina and Baldwin Ndaba.