Widespread anarchy and looting has already cost the citrus industry R15 million, says Agri SA. This, after criminals destroyed cargo that was being transported to the Durban harbour to be exported.
Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association, tells Food For Mzansi that criminality will “seriously disrupt” shipping out of the Durban port. This is South Africa’s main cargo and container port, handling more than 30 million tons of cargo annually.
Agricultural leaders warn hunger and starvation on a national scale are on the cards for South Africa if the looting of shops, stoning of cars, blocking of roads, and burning of trucks continues unabated.
“These disruptions will cost lives by cutting off the supply chains that sustain our food, health and production systems,” says President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The path of violence, of looting and anarchy, leads only to more violence and devastation. It leads to more poverty, more unemployment, and more loss of innocent life. This is not who we are as a people.”
Chadwick hopes that peace will be restored soon so that citrus producers will not suffer more financial losses. Also, global markets are expecting Mzansi’s high-quality export fruit on agreed-upon timelines.
“Once the criminal activities are brought under control there will be a number of loads that will need to come through to Durban, which will add to congestion,” he says.
“Fruit does not stop growing, packhouses continue packing and so consignments [will] wait to be released once roads are safe.”
This comes as the citrus industry is in the peak of its production season, with large volumes of about R592 million having to be transported to the Durban harbour on a weekly basis.
Crops burned, livestock stolen
Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede warns that criminals, including looters, should not be allowed to hold the country to ransom.
“South Africa runs the risk of people not being able to buy or access food,” he says. “This will lead to hunger and starvation on a national scale, which in turn will fuel even more social unrest and mayhem.”
Agri SA believes it is clear that criminals have no regard for law and order and that they will loot, destroy and steal non-stop until there is nothing left.
The organisation therefore calls on the president to declare a national state of emergency to bring an end to the wave of criminality.
Meanwhile, Agri SA president Pierre Vercueil says they have received reports that looters have also targeted other parts of the agricultural sector. Sugarcane fields and other crops were set alight in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Producers are unable to extinguish the fires as they fear for their lives. The situation has also affected livestock farmers whose feed stocks have been set alight, while various sawmills have also been closed,” he says.
Alcohol industry defeated
Apart from food outlets, looters have also been targeting liquor outlets in at least two provinces.
Sean Robinson, chairman of the Liquor Traders’ Association of South Africa, says many of its members have lost their entire stores’ stock running into hundreds of millions of Rands.
“It’s deeply troubling, and the extended ban [on alcohol sales] only increases the risk of this criminal behaviour and will result in further devastating losses.”
Lucky Ntimane, convenor of the National Liquor Traders, says tavern owners robbed of their stock would be unable to trade when, and if, the alcohol sales ban was lifted in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He says, “Their livelihoods are smashed and the township economy, where much of the looting has occurred, has been shattered.”
South African Liquor Brandowners’ Association chairperson, Sibani Mngadi says unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has become a firestorm.
“There is no doubt that the targeting of liquor stores by the looters is due to the high demand for alcoholic beverages as a result of the ban of sales,” he says.
Mngadi adds that the alcohol industry had informed government in January this year of the unintended consequences of prohibition.
This article was updated at 14.33 on Tuesday, 12 July to reflect an incorrect attribution of quote.