• Editor

Media Statement by the Statistician-General of SA on the civil unrest

The epic events that have befallen our nation, as characterised by mass lootings in the major economic centres of Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng, gravely concerns all of us.

On Monday, I took a decision to close all Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) offices across the country in a bid to protect our staff. While we have been able to shield staff from potential physical harm, we unfortunately cannot shield them from the downstream impact of these events. Staff in KwaZulu-Natal have been most severely affected, with serious food and fuel shortages already a reality in that province, and supply lines under severe threat. I have heard from staff members who have had to queue hours to get basic supplies; others who are unable to access much-needed medical attention; and still others who are living in fear of the situation spiralling even further out of control, with our law enforcement stretched to their limits.

It is heart-warming to see the spirit of Ubuntu come to the fore in the midst of such tragedy. There are a number of groups that are trying to find solutions to the various supply issues those affected are facing, and we will do all we can to assist in these endeavours. We all need to do what we can, even if it just phoning someone to check up on them. In these situations, we need to know that others are thinking of us and care about our wellbeing. We should discourage those who participate in these dastardly acts and make them understand the severity that such unthinking acts have on our beloved country.

I implore those of us in the affected provinces to remain calm and stay at home as much as possible. Let us not participate in this mayhem; ours, instead, is to persuade those we know to desist from illegality, and help where we are able.

Various analysts have tried to break down the reasons for the discord that has caused irreparable damage to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Most looters put non-pharmaceutical interventions, like wearing masks and social distancing, on the back-burner, which could lead to another surge in infections, just when vaccination registration has been opened up to the next group, those aged 35 and older. The rollout of the vaccination programme will be affected, particularly in KZN and GP. Poverty and unemployment, which have been deepened by ongoing lockdown owing to lower vaccination levels in our country and Africa as a whole, will increase even more in the light of the damage that has been wrought over the last week.

It could take years to rebuild the damaged infrastructure; it is likely that Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME’s) will find it difficult to rise from the ashes, with a knock-on effect on unemployment in the country. Stats SA has, for its part, conducted a number of convenience surveys to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business. In our initial survey at the start of lockdown, more than a year ago, more than 50% of businesses indicated that they would not return to business. This disorder has damaged business confidence and investment which our country requires if it is to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and National Development Plan (NDP). Regrettably, the chaos has not spared our offices in Kwazulu-Natal, some of which were looted and damaged.

It would appear that the majority of people that were found in the streets and malls were young people who, in the past, our surveys have characterised as Not in Employment, Education and Training (NEET). Many of these young people have not been able to access opportunities for basic and further education, and therefore have no skills to offer the economy. There is no doubt that these generation is bound from birth to death with poverty and unemployment. They will continue to present the greatest threat to stability unless all state and non-state actors (government and private sector) make it their priority to resolve their national grievance and ensure that they have livelihoods in the short to medium term. Our country needs to find ways to maximise this demographic dividend of the youth; we have seen what can happen if we continue to fail.


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