It was organised business as usual, with no major disruptions, despite EFF’s national protest
Although there were some marches, most of them were well controlled by police officers. A heavy police presence was credited by business players for no major disruptions or damages to their operations.
Organised business has breathed a sigh of relief that the attempted “national shutdown” led by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was not a repeat of the scenes seen during social unrest in July 2021, when there were major disruptions to the economy, an orgy of violence and damages to property.
Hundreds of protesters wearing the EFF’s red colours headed to Gauteng’s business capital of Sandton on Monday, leading a peaceful protest at the JSE. There was a heavy police presence as armoured vehicles monitored the situation and guarded the exchange’s property and others in Sandton.
At the JSE, deputy EFF president Floyd Shivambu reiterated the purpose of the national shutdown, demanding an end to rolling blackouts and for President Cyril Ramaphosa to resign. He claimed that the national shutdown was a success, even though it was business as usual in many parts of the country.
Surrounding shopping malls, restaurants, and office properties in Sandton momentarily closed their doors until protesters made their way to the next location. After protesters aligned with the EFF passed and were escorted by the police, these facilities opened their doors, returning to normal trading or operating patterns.
It was also a normal day in Rosebank, a business district about 6km from Sandton. At the popular Rosebank Mall, a few retail outlets decided not to open their doors, taking a cautious approach. But for the most part, retail activity went on without disruptions. And in the streets, traffic volumes were low despite 20 March being a working day and not a public holiday. At worst, many businesses experienced absenteeism of workers, and others shifted to the work-from-home mode.
Business Unity South Africa (Busa), the country’s biggest business organisation, said there were no major disruptions to the operations of its members. Busa’s members are companies across many industries including retail, banking and manufacturing.
Busa said although there had been some marches, most of them were well-controlled by police officers. The organisation was encouraged by the heavy police presence on the ground, which prevented protesters from being violent or destroying property.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Police quickly quell a disruption
If there was a disruption, it was quickly quelled by the police. For example, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) told News24 that an incident took place at a Woolworths food store in Grayston Drive, Sandton, when a group of EFF-affiliated protesters entered the store and sat down at the entrance. The intention was to block entry into the store.
But the police were called, and they dispersed the group and made arrests, said the CGCSA, which represents some of SA’s biggest retailers including Woolworths, Pick n Pay and Shoprite.
Michael Lawrence, the executive director of the National Clothing Retail Federation (NCRF), told Business Maverick there were no reported incidents of violence or damages to retail outlets by the end of Monday. The NCRF’s members include Truworths, Mr Price, Pick n Pay Clothing, Queenspark and Cape Union Mart.
Other crucial parts of the economy seemed to operate without major disruptions. In the rail and transport sector, state-owned company Transnet was prepared for any eventuality, including its properties being damaged, or its rail and port operations not operating as a direct result of the attempted “national shutdown”.
Transnet deployed more security personnel at its rail and port operations across the country. And this helped to prevent major damages or disruptions to the company’s operations, said Mesela Kope-Nhlapo, the CEO of the African Rail Industry Association (Aria), a lobby group representing players in the railway industry.
During the July 2021 unrest, Transnet said its Durban and Richards Bay ports were negatively affected as the “entire supply chain is closed”, including the roads leading into and out of the ports. Durban port alone moves about 2.5 million tonnes of cargo a month.
When Transnet isn’t operating properly, many businesses and South Africa’s exports come to a standstill. But years of financial mismanagement, poor maintenance of and underinvestment in its infrastructure, and a lack of competitive edge have seen Transnet becoming a big threat to the economy. Transnet’s trains often face delays in moving goods and its ports are often congested.
Kope-Nhlapo said Transnet cannot afford to have more problems. A violent national shutdown would have added to the company’s woes. Already, Aria estimates that inefficiencies at Transnet could cost the economy up to R1-billion a day. DM/BM