South Africa’s largest companies were among those forced to halt operations as some of the worst protests since the end of white minority rule erupted in parts of the country, with rioters torching trucks and looting stores.
The nation’s biggest four lenders led by Standard Bank Group and FirstRand all closed branches in KwaZulu-Natal, the province at the heart of the violent unrest, and the economic hub of Gauteng, the companies said in emailed responses to questions Monday. Walmart Inc.-owned Massmart Holdings and mobile-phone giants Vodacom Group and MTN Group were among others to shutter outlets, while the latter is running its main call center at minimal capacity.
Dis-Chem Pharmacies closed all its drugstores in KwaZulu-Natal, hampering South Africa’s Covid-19 testing and vaccine rollout, according to text messages sent to customers. Smaller shops across downtown Johannesburg closed as looters roamed the streets, while the affluent Rosebank Mall near the city’s financial hub of Sandton shut early as a precaution.
Business leaders are calling on authorities to quell the violence that has escalated since the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma last week, with the army being deployed to help police. The looting and destruction have emptied the shelves of grocers and closed major roads in the country, including the N3 highway between the port city of Durban and Johannesburg. At least six people have died to date, according to police.
“We are doing all we can to ensure that the disruptions are minimised,” Trudi Makhaya, an economic adviser to President Cyril Ramaphosa, said in webinar organised by the World Bank. “Of course, that begins with arresting criminals, intervening in those hotspots where we’re seeing challenges.”
The impact of the riots has delivered a further blow to industries already contending with lockdown restrictions in South Africa to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections, which were toughened late last month to combat a third wave. It’s also hampering efforts to revive an economy that suffered its largest contraction in a century last year.
South African stocks pared losses as investors kept a close eye on the protests, while the extension of the current hard level of lockdown weighed on sentiment. The FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index was up 0.7% by 3:51 p.m., erasing earlier losses of as much as 0.7%, though the FTSE/JSE Retailers Index fell 1.4%.
“There is definitely a more somber mood on the JSE today,” said Michele Santangelo of Independent Securities in Johannesburg. “South Africa-centric shares are mostly under pressure today as is the rand. Investors are likely not overly concerned given the recent events but they are certainly not overly optimistic either,” he said.