Civil unrest, looting impact farming, threaten food supply

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Soldiers patrol the looted and vandalized Diepkloof Square in Soweto. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Soldiers patrol the looted and vandalized Diepkloof Square in Soweto. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press


South African farmers have been hit by days of unrest and looting as trucks carrying produce are prevented from delivering to markets, threatening food supply, industry officials say.

Crowds this week clashed with police and ransacked shopping malls, with dozens reportedly killed in the process as grievances unleashed by last week’s jailing of former president Jacob Zuma boiled over into the worst violence in years.

Some of the country’s major highways have been closed.

“Farmers have already had major losses because they cannot get their products to local markets and to shops,” Christo van der Rheede, executive director at the country’s main agricultural body, AgriSA, said.

READ: Looting happens freely at a Soweto shopping centre three minutes from a police station

One of AgriSA’s farmers has already reported the loss of R3 million worth of perishable produce that could not be transported, Van der Rheede said.

All sugar mills in KwaZulu-Natal – the main sugar growing area and one of the provinces hardest hit by the unrest – have closed after cane trucks were hijacked, mills threatened and cane farms set alight, said agrchief executive Thomas Funke.

About 300 000 tons of cane to date have been burnt. This is roughly R180 million of grower revenue.

Sugar producer Tongaat Hulett said its mills and refinery were also closed.

Citrus Growers Association chief executive Justin Chadwick said citrus exports had also been halted, with trucks unable to use the main arterial roads to the Port of Durban, from where more than half of the country’s citrus is exported.

South Africa is the world’s second-largest exporter of fresh citrus after Spain.

READ: SA citrus exports to US up 50%, set to grow even further

President Cyril Ramaphosa warned on Monday that disruption to supply chains could lead to food and medicine shortages in the coming weeks.

The impact is already being seen in Durban. On Tuesday consumers stood in queues at the few supermarkets that remained open to buy basics. In some areas where supermarkets were closed, panic was setting in over food supplies.

“All the shops are closed. We are going to run out of bread soon,” said Neli Zulu, a resident of Pietermaritzburg, another area badly affected by the unrest. – Reuters


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