Monday stayaway: ‘Stay open, don’t submit’ industry advises business

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) has joined industry’s collective condemnation of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) planned shutdown on Monday, 20 March, and is calling on businesses to resist intimidation by the political party.

The industry body said in a statement on Thursday that the economy cannot afford further setbacks because of the “reckless calls for a shutdown ostensibly to remove political opponents”.

“Our challenges of economic growth, unemployment, poverty, and inequality cannot be resolved by resorting to extra parliamentary and negligent political action that disrupts economic activity. We also urge the organisers to do everything in their power to condemn the apparent intimidation and threats of looting businesses and interfering with those who choose not to participate in the shutdown,” Sacci said.

“Our economy is at a difficult position of recovery and reckless actions by political parties or labour unions should be universally condemned,” it added.

“We urge our business owners to not submit to intimidation, whilst taking precautions, in working with law enforcement agencies, to protect their property and possessions, especially that of life and limb.”

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Contradictory statements

The EFF, the third-biggest political party in SA, confirmed this week that it will be embarking on a shutdown march on the eve of Human Rights Day, to call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down as head of state, and to protest gender-based violence and the country’s high unemployment rate, among other issues.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, EFF leader Julius Malema denied agitating for violence and looting in the lead up to the march.

Instead, he told the media that the party sent out alerts of the imminent shutdown to business and other stakeholders to avoid chaos on the day, as the EFF cannot control how participants will behave.

“We don’t want looting on 20 March. But you know if shops are opened, people take advantage of those shops and engage in illegal activity,” Malema said.

“We’re not saying in any of the letters close the shop. We’re making them aware that there will be a protest, for them to make preparations.”

Tight security, united action

For businesses, calls for a shutdown trigger fears of a repeat of the 2021 July riots, which saw massive destruction to public and private infrastructure and mass looting of retail centres, warehouses and businesses in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.

That week of destruction is estimated to have wiped more than R50 billion from the country’s economy and is believed to have cost the lives of more than 350 people.

The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) – which represents the interests of companies in the retail and manufacturing industries – said that although it recognises and respects individuals’ rights to express frustrations through protest, there is no need to freeze economic activity while doing so.

“While the CGCSA acknowledges the economic challenges and impact of load shedding on society as a whole, it nevertheless believes calling for a national shutdown will further damage an economy already struggling to grow due to these challenges.

“The economy cannot sustain any disruption similar to what a shutdown will cause,” CGSA said.

It says its members – which include food and essential products manufacturing and retail giants like Tiger Brands, Shoprite, Famous Brands, Pick n Pay and Clicks – have taken the necessary steps to secure their sites and staff and prevent disruption to operations on Monday.

It says the CGCSA, through the Consumer Goods Risk Initiative, is liaising with relevant law enforcement to ensure that law and order is maintained.

In a statement on Wednesday, Business Unity South Africa (Busa) CEO Cas Coovadia called on law enforcement to get a handle on the situation.

“Law enforcement agencies must ensure all protest action is peaceful and act decisively against any violence, intimidation, and unlawful disruption.”

Coovadia said that only united action will help the country overcome its current challenges, and that divisive actions of political parties aimed at achieving “narrow political gains” will not.

“Busa shares South Africans’ frustration with load-shedding, stagnant economic growth, unemployment, and the myriad social and economic problems brought about by government failure in several areas.

“But the disruption of the economy by a minority will further aggravate an already dire situation and threaten workplaces, and household incomes, and [lead to] increased hardship for all.

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Santaco gets a pass

Unlike the rest of the business community the country’s biggest taxi association, the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), seems to have come to an understanding with the EFF.

On Thursday it said its members will not be taking part in the party’s shutdown efforts and business will continue as usual.

In a statement Santaco said it met with the EFF on Wednesday to discuss their position on the shutdown and both parties agreed to stay out of each other’s way.

“We want to emphasise that the meeting was cordial and the views of both parties were respectfully welcomed. Prior to the meeting, Santaco had replied to the EFF’s letter explaining its apolitical stance and a matter of policy, which the EFF respected. The EFF’s courtesy to brief Santaco on why their protest was justified is therefore welcomed.

“Against this, we therefore confidently believe that come 20 March 2023, we will all work together to afford each other space in pursuit of our diverse interests and intended objectives of the day.”