Picture: Mike Hutchings/REUTERS – Pylons carry electricity from South African power utility Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear plant near Cape Town, in this November 28, 2015 picture. International geopolitics, the global energy crisis, environmental natural disasters, Covid-19 and outbreaks of new dominant pathogens, crime and corruption necessitate a review of 2022 and the most critical issues impacting on the safety and security of citizens, writes Pingla Udit.
By Pingla Udit
International geopolitics, the global energy crisis, environmental natural disasters, Covid-19 and outbreaks of new dominant pathogens, crime and corruption necessitate a review of 2022 and the most critical issues impacting on the safety and security of citizens.
A broad review is needed of issues from a perennial energy crisis to a weak state and governance, cyber crime and cyber security, violent crime, kidnapping and extortion, as well as the pandemic of gender-based violence and femicide, among others. There have also been positive developments, alongside those characterised by conflict and opposition.
Perennial energy crisis
The blackouts by the state power utility are taking a daily toll on the lives of South Africans and having a devastating effect on households and livelihoods. The breakdown of power plants has been exceptionally high this year. One hundred and thirty days of load shedding, 1,900 business hours means two-thirds of production days have been lost this year. All this has a ripple effect on production, the economy and productivity. The state power utility business model lost their best paying customers as they are not getting services they need. These paying customers will be going off the grid in the next 12 months. The financial impact is also a big issue, with less people paying tax.
Blackouts have an impact on the economy, financial industry and small businesses that are under tremendous strain because of lack of production and the loss of jobs. The weaknesses in the municipalities, together with blackouts, poor service provision, and corruption is a recipe for disaster. The sabotage of equipment and theft of the utility’s resources, necessitates urgent prosecution. The deliberate destruction of electricity infrastructure in communities and criminal activities needs swift action by councillors and police.
Citizens continue to bear the brunt of exorbitant utility rates and shifting stages of blackouts, while the power utility and stakeholders stumble to speedily resolve this dark crisis. The current big debate is on the cost and benefit analysis of alternative solutions to source and resource in order to bring light to people’s lives. State and governance different agencies, departments and municipalities responsible for road, railways, water to lights is failing, the violation of our territorial integrity through airspace and maritime entry points, and the burning of Parliament this year as all these key sectors relates to governance and accountability.
State resources are being siphoned to garner resources for political influence. When things surface about corruption and misuse of power arise it becomes a political contestation. In 2022, there is a continuation of this theme, in the incitement of violence around coalition formations, court decisions involving high profile leaders and involuntary migration. In a positive development, winners of the 2022 Blueprint Whistleblowing prizes include South Africans who blew the whistle on corrupt practices during the state capture era.
South Africa’s debt levels are currently high as funds with gross loan debt have increased. Investor confidence in South Africa is impacted by a fragile economy, structural constraints and the slow prosecution of state capture crimes. Although unemployment has slipped from 29.1 percent to 27.9 percent, it can still spiral into new problems for us all.
The impact of the current international conflict between Russia and Ukraine had a detrimental impact on food prices. There is need for food security and sustainability during geo-political conflicts. The mismanagement of local critical resources impacts on food insecurity.
The impact of climate change and extreme rainfall triggered severe flooding and landslides in various parts of the country this year. The risk and loss of human life, financial loss and damage to urban and rural infrastructure on account of poor drainage and building standards; to the ecosystems as a result of human activity and/or failure to co-exist with animal ecosystems; the deregulation of protected areas; and the biodiversity loss of species and extinction in stripping of natural resource through poaching resulting in ecological imbalances.
Basic service provision protests, procurement corruption in public health and poor quality drinking water is a recurring problem in the environment.
Cyber crime and cyber security are growing in significance and are both local and transnational. Banks and financial services are increasingly under attack. Email interception is also a big risk factor. This happens daily where fraudsters intercept an email and change the banking details. Cyber security failure in business, government, and household infrastructure measures are outstripped or rendered obsolete by increasingly sophisticated cyber crimes, resulting in economic disruption and financial loss. The country also needs to address compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.
Violent crime continues to have a presence daily ranging from robbery at residential premises, commercial crime, car jacking, truck hijacking, and extortion by construction and mining syndicates, to mass shootings in taverns and environmental crime. The recent annual crime statistics police report evidences a double-digit increase for murder, attempted murder and grievous bodily harm. Gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) continues to be a “national crisis and is among the highest globally”. Social media needs to be daily highlighting misogynistic attacks on women and children.
The country has been rocked by a surge of kidnappings for ransom and extortion of both children and adults. In the first six months of 2022, an average of 1,143 kidnappings took place. A summit on the plight of children-headed households, homeless children, drugs at schools, attacks on pupils and sexual violence should be held to address the challenges children face, as they are the future.
Crime is a symptom of a lack of social trust and social capital. The high level of crime in the country necessitates a well- coordinated crime prevention strategy. It is possible to break the street-end and brain-end of organised crime with a highly trained, well resourced and competent police service. The lack of effective oversight by parliament does not augur well for ordinary citizens whose lives are under constant threat. As there is a focus on apartheid deaths, deaths in police custody were over 200 in the past year.
The private security industry is a major threat and continues to be badly regulated. A politician can be linked to a security company where guns are either unlicensed or permits have expired and there is a lack of oversight to bring charges.
The Zondo report stresses lack of parliamentary oversight and is scathing about lack of intelligence community oversight and the same could apply to the police too.
The panel report on the July 2021 civil unrest made recommendations on policy issues relating to policing, intelligence failure and factional political interests, and it is imperative that there is greater oversight.
2022 has been a year filled death, despair and decay for its citizens. It has been a tumultuous year for the cost of living, and loss of much needed human capital, due to migration. The system needs repairing in public procurement, policing, health and education and climate change. The Sahel and the rest of Africa is a fertile ground for terrorism activities and a caveat for a weak state. Most importantly, as long as there is instability in the governing party, the impact on the government’s capacity to foster peace and stability will always be a major problem.
Dr Pingla Udit is a researcher and writer, who has been involved in Conflict Issues and Humanitarian Responses for more than 20 years, including in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Central African Republic.