Covid-19: 'Extending lockdown could exhaust social tolerance, fuel civil unrest, crime'
Cape Town - An extended lockdown will not only result in prolonged economic hardship, but may fuel civil unrest coupled with looting and acts of criminality.
Stellenbosch University (SU) sociology professor Lindy Heinecken said: “My personal view is this will fuel frustration, anger and resentment, especially as the poor carry the greatest burden.
“Looting and rioting will be inevitable, and the security forces are not in a position to contain this. It may well result in excessive use of force as neither the police nor military are equipped to deal with riot control in terms of their training and equipment.”
The country is currently now in day 12 of a 21-day lockdown induced by the Covid-19 disease. To date there have been 1 655 cases of infections – 454 of them in the Western Cape. Nationwide 95 recoveries and 11 deaths have been reported.
Heinecken said the poor, who have been hit hard by the lockdown, should be of great concern.
Reports at the weekend suggested the 21-day lockdown might be extended by a further three months by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
A professor of economics at SU, Ronelle Burger, said this may exhaust the social tolerance for such limitations on freedom. “People are making huge sacrifices. Because we have started early with lockdown, we need to be careful and understand that it is likely that this fight will continue until at least July. Given that the winter months still lie ahead of us, it is likely we may need another lockdown in May or June.
“Some of the epidemiological models suggest that the best would be to have periods of intense limitation on socialisation, but interspersed with periods of greater freedom. I think it is likely that the schools and universities will not reopen until July and we will need to find ways to cope with this.”
Burger added families would have to readjust their lives during this critical time.
“The lockdown meant that many people suddenly had no income – hairdressers, street traders, day labourers, waiters – with very little advance notice.
“Many of these groups may have little savings, and anecdotes suggest that for many people there have also been issues with getting access to food near their house.
“It has been a very tough and heartbreaking time, especially for poor households. These are stories that grandfathers and grandmothers will be telling their grandchildren; a life-changing event that will be studied in depth for years to come,” Burger said.
Over the last few days reports of several business robberies have emerged within the CBD, and most recently lootings of various liquor stores.
“A far greater threat is to the wellness and survival of the majority poor, who now have no income, face a lack of food security and who have – due to the curtailment of their freedom – no social support networks. Not enough attention has been paid to disaster and humanitarian relief,” she said.
Economist Dawie Roodt said: “Worst-case scenario, should the lockdown be extended it would result in a loss of productivity.
“We must remember that the state depends on production via tax revenue, and now since everything has stopped we could see no revenue being generated. What we are also expecting to see is the impact job losses will have, and then the extreme desperation of people.”
Economist Mike Schussler said he had calculated that if the lockdown was extended by another 10 days, about 1.6 million jobs would be lost in the formal sector by the end of the second quarter.
If the lockdown continued for as long as three months, South Africa could only expect to climb out of the devastation in mid-2021, or in the first quarter of 2022, he added.