28 May Emerging from the Covid-19 Lock-Down Will Expose Escalated Threats and Risk Levels for Businesses and Staff
All competent Security and Risk Practitioners are aware that South Africa has, for decades, had high levels of crime but not all may be aware that it has, according to the PWC Biennial Research Report on Global Crime of 2018, the dubious distinction of being at that time and in many categories, the most highly crime infected country in the world – https://www.pwc.co.za/en/assets/pdf/gecs-2018.pdf pages 8 and 9 et al.
In fact, as is well documented in the WikiLeaks link below, this dubious distinction was approaching years before the 2018 PWC research: and shows how well entrenched high levels of crime have become in South Africa https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_South_Africa. Security Services Consultants Pty Ltd.’s current crime stats database confirms this situation remains applicable and is not likely to improve due to the catastrophic impact of the Corona – 19 lock down on increased levels of unemployment, disposable incomes and therefore hunger among the vulnerable. Ironically South Africa has no shortage of food and in fact some 30% of food produced goes to waste. The vulnerable and unemployed simply cannot afford to buy sufficient food – regardless of lock down or not.
During the March to May lockdown period this year, it has been publicised by government spokesmen that crime levels initially reduced significantly during the early stages of the lockdown due mainly to the nationally imposed restrictions on the freedom of movement. However, one of the immediate results of the gradual softening to date of the restrictions and the various exemptions allowed – including increased levels of freedom of movement, has been the noticeable resurgence of crime levels – especially when related to tobacco, liquor and food products. Incidents of desperation driven civil disobedience have begun to occur – despite the presence of Police and Military units tasked to enforce the lockdown regulations.
Although it would certainly be far-fetched to conjure up images of the food riots preceding the French revolution complete with guillotine and the callous and ignorant remark ‘let them eat cake’ incorrectly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette, it is definitely not being over dramatic to envisage the potential for increasing levels of desperate mob attacks on food distribution facilities including suburban retail outlets. Embedded in the now numerous media publications increasingly critical of the lockdown strategy and – its catastrophic adverse effects on the economy, on job losses and employment – are references to the resultant poverty and endemic levels of hunger being experienced by an estimated thirteen to seventeen million unemployed people in South Africa; and this excludes social welfare beneficiaries. In some media a level of 50 – 60 % unemployment is considered possible. The true situation will only become evident in the weeks and months ahead.
Fragmented attempts by a myriad of government, NGO, religious and other entities – even past and present Springbok rugby players, have brought to light the serious levels of food deprivation in large sections of the population e.g. food parcel lines several kilometres long, the appearance of malnourished children at clinics and hospitals and the tragic, sickening and realistic assumption that many deserving cases are not being reached due to the un coordinated delivery mechanisms in place based on ignorance of the true spread and depth of the problem.
Howard Griffiths, MD of Security Service Consultants Pty Ltd (https://sscglobalinvestigations.com/), South Africa’s oldest established privately owned full service security firm reports that SSC has been advising Security and Risk Executives in client businesses of the critically urgent need to accept that their enterprise key risks and threats have changed and will continue to change significantly. The situation will continue to evolve until some form of normality is achieved. It is essential that innovative mitigation responses for entire risk management frameworks, inclusive of all physical measures to protect fixed, movable and staff assets together with ESG policies and procedures and related insurance coverage, be considered in terms of the new threats and risks inherent in the unchartered dynamic environment now being faced.
Covid – 19 social distancing procedures will bring new operating and staff related difficulties. Any outbreak of infections could result in panic or refusal to report for work or vindictive destruction of assets with attendant Union activity. A further vexing problem has been the relaxing of attention to already existing pandemics such as HIV Aids, TB and malaria which have annual death rates comparable if not in excess of projections for Covid – 19. Increased infections are projected to occur and may well prove serious for some businesses and should be planned for.
However dire the situation becomes in South Africa, it is certain to be better than many countries to the North. If Covid -19 gets out of hand in those countries for whatever reason, a further influx of desperate, sick and hungry refugees could occur, despite the already breached and corruption tainted new R34 million security fence at Beit Bridge, with seriously adverse implications, as in the past, for crime in South Africa.
More than ever before, remaining alert, agile and flexible will be crucial in the months and even years ahead. Security and Risk executives should be prepared for extremely difficult times.
Any form of new normality, if it is to recognise and cater for potentially enhanced levels of civil disobedience and threats to law and order will have to include a national solution to the problems of unemployment, poverty, food security and hunger In the case of food security and hunger, basic foods will have to be affordable or made available via a properly conceived and executed government assisted/endorsed national charity food distribution programme (ideally under the direction of a National Command Structure as has been established for Covid – 19) for the unemployed and other vulnerable sections of the population such as asylum seekers and refugees – whether illegal or not – who are likely to be with us for some time to come.
Based on governments’ track record to date, as evidenced by the junk status of the economy even before Covid – 19, the inefficiencies in the Criminal Justice System, the ruination of all key SOE’s – even Eskom which is the heartbeat of the economy, repeated corruption scandals, state capture, etc. – there is widespread scepticism that government is up to the task of getting South Africa back on its feet or can even afford the inescapable costs. Even many of the well intentioned Covid 19 related relief measures have not been effective due to poor planning and execution and many potential recipients have been left stranded. Government may well have incurred Covid – 19 related debt approaching one trillion rand with the lock down costing the economy an estimated thirteen billion rand per day. Economic recovery could well take up to ten years just as the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis took a decade to be digested. The unlimited cope for statesmanship and public/private partnerships are self-evident if South Africa is to regain international and local investor confidence and recover within a reasonable time frame.
It is relevant, in the absence of any disclosed information, to wonder whether any of the pre- requisite due diligence disciplines usually associated with the viability assessment of a large, high risk capital intensive project were considered by government prior to the adoption of and seemingly lemming like blind adherence to the national lock down process followed by the first responder countries. There has not yet, for example, been any media exposure of statistics – which might have influenced the lock down decision – relating to the projected cost of different options or in the case of the lives over livelihoods option, the projected duration of the lock down and its total cost broken down by category and how this would be funded, i.e. four weeks, six weeks or eight weeks or even longer and R500 billion or R 1 trillion and percentage of projected annual GDP at December 2020 (US$ 380 billion) and the loss of GDP if the lock down option was chosen, the projected number of destitute that would be created, the cost each life saved or to be saved and what percentage of the lives saved were not contributing to the economy, of the number of and cost of each job to be lost, of the projected cost of replacing those lost jobs or the projected costs of replacing a significant number of broken SMME’s , the lost jobs and their contribution to the economy and national revenues. Projections for the loss of even larger enterprises already under stress (Edgars) or reliant for survival on the freedom of movement of people i.e. tourism, hotels, restaurants, etc. might also have influenced decisions made.
With the benefits of hindsight the inevitable inquisition which will follow in due course, will expose the wisdom or otherwise of choices made. Of comfort is the certainty that whatever the results of the inquisition, the choices were hopefully made in good faith and in the face of uncertainty. Even scientists have not been uniformly agreed on which choices were most appropriate. There are currently eight different local and international models projecting Covid – 19’s outcome in South Africa in terms of infections and deaths – 40k to 150k. The rates of infection and deaths, regardless of various efficiencies in flattening the curve procedures, in disparate countries such as Sweden and Brazil compared to most of Europe, the USA, South Africa and others who chose the lives over livelihoods option should at least prove useful for the management of future virus pandemics.
SMME’s globally generate up to 60% of all new jobs and South Africa has, despite quite extensive lip service, neglected this source of new employment both before and during the lock down. The situation is well described in the link https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-05-21-three-out-of-four-smmes-will-close-bold-steps-are-required-to-avert-a-crisis/
Based on public pronouncements made, it is evident that government is acutely aware of the civil disobedience and crime links inherent in endemic levels of unemployment and hunger and the consequent risks from protests, communal violence, political instability and crime directed at businesses and their staff at home or at work and at the general population. However, there is no evidence that a holistically conceived national food relief programme which includes and coordinates the activities of all the relevant players, which accurately assesses the numbers of starving involved, where they live, how much and what kind of foods are required, what distribution and logistics methods are applicable and what would be the costs with realistic execution and distribution plans is being considered. The depth and breadth of the hunger crisis can be estimated by the projected cost of feeding say 15 million destitute persons at R50 each per month. Even if accurate data and logistics issues are resolved, this would equate to R750 million per month. How did South Africa ever get to such a situation and is it unfair to ask if this was foreseen by those whose secure accommodation, guaranteed monthly salaries and three meals day lifestyles would not be affected and who chose the lives over livelihood option?
And there is no evidence yet of a properly co-ordinated programme to mitigate the crucial SMME situation.
While this situation persists, it behoves Senior Management and Security and Risk Executives collectively to be extremely vigilant and to monitor the situation continuously.
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