Stocktake: Over 500 retail stores reportedly looted – FASA
by Louise Burgers. Over 500 retail stores are reported to have been looted, and industry organisations are warning of food shortages if the violence is not contained.Tuesday, 13 Jul 2021
by Louise Burgers. There is only one story this week and that is South Africa burning. Over 500 retail stores are reported to have been looted; and industry organisations are warning of food shortages if the violence is not contained. Looting continued overnight and today, July 13, 2021, despite the army being called in; and the industry fears the unrest witnessed in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal will spread to other provinces.
As one former media colleague said on Facebook, ‘Zuma’s [arrest] may have been the match, but the woodpile was already stocked’. Poverty, unemployment, despair, grief, Covid, lockdown, inadequate policing, political dissent, lockdown… pick one or tick all of the above. The ghastly images of entire shopping centres, warehouses, strip malls and streets in major city centres in our economic hubs, being stripped bare and set alight, have horrified us all.
This is what the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) had to say in condemning the looting and destruction of property: “CGCSA is particularly concerned about the potential impact of the disruptions on food security in the country and various supply chain issues. This is because factories will not be able to produce, resulting in food shortages, which will affect the most vulnerable and poor. CGCSA is also concerned that small retailers and independents are also being targeted and where will people in townships get food when everything is destroyed? The loss to retailers, including the cost of damage to property and delivery vehicles, runs into millions of rands and has already severely affected their operations. The potential impact on business viability and job security is also a serious cause for concern.”
The organisation, which represents both major and independent retailers, FMCG brands and manufacturers, said in a statement that it is worried that the disruption to business activity and destruction of commercial property will further delay the recovery of the economy from successive lockdown restrictions, and also affect already fragile investor and business confidence. “The fact that the government has extended the lockdown for another 14 days, with liquor sales remaining banned, is not helping the situation and will worsen the financial crisis facing liquor retailers and those in the value chain. Furthermore, the disruption to and closure of key transport routes can potentially affect the supply chain of retail products which could in turn create shortages of basic commodities throughout the country.”
Urgent action is needed
The Franchise Association of South Africa (FASA) has added its voice to calls by business associations calling on government to take urgent action to prevent further unrest. “Franchising, which contributes around 14% to the country’s GDP, represents businesses across 14 different sectors. FASA has done everything to ensure that their members comply with government’s [lockdown] guidelines and continue to contribute to keeping the economy going,” said Pertunia Sibanyoni, FASA’s chairperson, earlier today. “We are disappointed at the inadequacy of the response from the authorities in protecting businesses and assets, and call for the government to act with urgency to prevent further anarchy and the collapse of the economy.”
Tony Da Fonseca, a past chairman of FASA and CEO of the OBC Group which has supermarkets across the country and in vulnerable areas, reports that the group has lost over 10 of their stores in KZN and Gauteng. FASA says reports from fellow retailers indicate that over 500 supermarkets have already been looted nationally. “We are hearing that, if not stopped immediately and urgently, the looting is going to escalate nationally overnight, which we are already seeing in outlying areas. Food security is going to be an issue in the coming weeks as retailers are forced to close – which will impact all communities across the country. The destruction, not only to retailers and property, but to the very infrastructure and basic services, such as supplies to hospitals and water security, in the coming days is cause for alarm.”
Freddy Makgato, newly elected CEO of FASA, is warning of job losses. “We are extremely concerned by the insufficient security response that is meted out, taking into account the level of violence and destruction taking place. We call on the government to make sure that proper security is provided in ensuring that private property, infrastructure and the safety of our people is guaranteed. Should this state of affairs be allowed to continue, most and major businesses may not be able to recover and people will in all likelihood lose their jobs, and the economy will come to a standstill as it is already in dire straits.”
Look for the ubuntu
The unrest and destructive looting spree was inevitable, say some political commentators and futurists, whether driven by political malcontent, criminal elements or the have nots. It is a fear that drove many South Africans to stockpile ahead of lockdown last year: the fear that supply chains would be disrupted. Except, our manufacturers, road freight, retailers and all our suppliers, kept us well supplied with all our grocery needs as we navigated these challenging times without a guidebook. And now this. Supply chains disrupted and malls burned by South Africans. We have all heard the warnings of this likely scenario from the scenario planners and futurists as poverty and unemployment increases; but it is no less shocking to witness. Billions of damage and loss of goods; as well as more job losses and more spikes in Covid infections; more hospitals overwhelmed; more deaths of loved ones and people we know. Where is the hope in all this?
Hope can be found in the ubuntu of ordinary South Africans who offered to clean up shops, malls and city centres for free; it is in the ordinary citizens who guarded their local retailers thorough the night in their suburbs; it is those that sprang into action to help. The site, ‘I know a guy’, has been flooded with offers to help clean up via the various community Facebook pages. There is another account of how the Diepsloot Residents’ Association, JMPD and the Randburg Taxi Association worked together last night to find looted goods and return them to the stores that they were taken from. In the Eastern Cape, taxi associations banded together to say they would not take part in any looting and vowed to help protect shopping centres. On social media a poster with the words, ‘We refuse to join the looting’, is being issued by organisations, towns and people living all over South Africa.
As Dave Nemeth, Retailing Africa’s retail analyst said today: “As hard as it is to stay positive, remember one thing. Dynamic shifts and changes rarely happen without major disruptions. History, technology, changes in leadership, the list goes on. Drastic change happens due to severe disruptions. Let’s hope we start seeing a change for the better, with minimal lives lost. Things are tough and tensions are high – we have been a ticking time bomb for some time now. Change for the better will happen. Stay safe, stay strong, stay positive.”
And, as many have said on social media… look for the helpers. Look for the stories of those who did not follow the mob; who helped. The social media campaigns from towns, taxi associations, residents associations, and so on, against the looting. It is the only way to have hope right now.
Main image credit: shared on Twitter.
*Stocktake is a weekly roundup of current FMCG retailing and brand news, curated and edited by Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers. Keep the industry updated and send your announcements and news to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.
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