Civil unrest report commentary: 10 June – 16 June

For the period of 10 June – 16 June the Protest Query run by CABC returned: 14 197 mentions. 6 382 unique authors were involved in the conversation. Using that query 27 separate protests were identified as having occurred in the past week within South Africa. This document provides some analysis and commentary on those protests, as well as on the online conversation about protests in South Africa.

The Query

The query looks at news, forums, blogs and twitter, and is designed to collect multi-media items that mention protests or terms related to protest.

The query only gathered media items from within South Africa. For the period 10 June – 16 June. This returned a total of 14 197 mentions. A total of 6 382 unique authors were involved in the conversation. Total mentions decreased by 26%, down from 19 170, while unique authors decreased by 38%, from 10 276.

The query was used to search online for protests or mentions of protests or looting. The full search query is found in Appendix A. This was complemented with simple searches on the Twitter platform.

The Trends

The volume for the conversation over the reported period was as follows:

The scale on the left indicates that the total number of mentions at volumetric peak by hour was just over 400. The large peak on 11 June was driven by tweets authored by Julius Malema, and two Zimbabwean politicians, Hopewell Chin’ono and Nelson Chamisa, discussing corruption and looting of state resources in Zimbabwe. The spike in volume on June 11 was caused by these tweets:

The word cloud below shows, ranked by size, the most-used #hashtags within the conversation on protests online over the past week:

The trending hashtags this week are markedly different from those of last week. #Obadiahmoyomustgo refers to Obadiah Moyo, the Minister of Health in Zimbabwe. He has been implicated in corruption related to Coronavirus responses, which has been named #Covidgate.

A number of hashtags related to law enforcement, such as JMPD (Johannesburg Metro Police Department), #SAPS (South African Police Services), KZN Traffic (KZN Traffic Police), etc. While others are the specific hashtags used by people or organisations reporting on car accidents, traffic and protests on public roads, such #1secondtelegram, #protestaction and #arrivealive.

The word-cloud below shows the top phrases and words used by South Africans involved in the conversation on protests during the week of 10 – 16 June:

The most-used phrases and words either refer to coronavirus or the corruption in Zimbabwe involving Obidiah Moyo. It is noteworthy that last week the conversation was focused on Black Lives matter and police violence. While these topics are still being discussed online, they are not being discussed in relation to active protests. Instead, the looting of state-resources in Zimbabwe is dominating the South African online conversation on protests and looting.

Protests Occuring in South Africa 10 June – 16 June:

A total of twenty-seven protests were recorded in the Civil Unrest Report for the period 10 June – 16 June.Of those 27 Protests:

Twelve were of unknown motive. These protests tend to be localised and driven by single-issues, such as power cuts on a particular street or in one residential area. These protests do not feature in news and are found through noting where traffic obstructions caused by protests are captured online. Most often this is done by a traffic-information update.

Six of the 27 protests related to service delivery. Five of these were related to people demanding electricity in their residential areas. At least one of these protests was a protest against the disconnecting of illegal electricity access. The sixth protest was related to service delivery, though it was not specified which services this referred to.

One protest was related to housing. This was the incident in Hangberg, in Hout Bay, Cape Town. The City of Cape Town destroyed a number of structures that they described as illegal and uninhabited in Hangberg. Residents of Hangberg said that the City had destroyed homes and evicted people. It is unclear if ‘protest’ is the correct word for this, as the incident started when the City of Cape Town moved to evict people, and the residents of Hangberg resisted this eviction. Teargas and stun grenades were used by police to disburse residents and enforce the eviction. It is noteworthy that a number of commentators online were critical of the City’s actions, particularly as they chose to evict people in winter during a week with particularly cold and wet conditions.

Five protests were related to an aspect of the coronavirus pandemic or the response to it by the government. One of these protests was related to the continued ban of the sale of cigarettes during lockdown. Two were related to the reopening of schools, and concerns about learner safety. Two were protests conducted by health workers at hospitals, protesting over inadequate PPE, unpaid overtime and unhappiness over working conditions.

One of the largest drivers of conversation and protests last week, Black Lives Matters, was only responsible for two protests this week. Civilians protested at the courthouse where those accused of murdering Bobo Mbuthu appeared for their bail hearing. They gathered to protest against the granting of bail for the suspects.

Situational Analysis:

The conversation and tone of protests shifted notably from the previous reporting period. Previously the conversation focused strongly on Black Lives Matter and the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States, this led to protests and conversation around police brutality in South Africa, with discussions about the number of people killed during lockdown by SAPS and SANDF being a point of concern. This week the online conversation featured very little of this, and only two of the 27 protests were related to Black Lives Matter issues.

The query run by CABC looks at protest and looting. Looting is an ambiguous term and can refer to the physical looting of shops (as was seen during the Black Lives Matter protests and during the early stages of lockdown in South African) as well as to the looting of state resources through corruption and misappropriation of funds. The conversation this week featured this second use of the word. The query this week found a total volume of 14 186 mentions, while the top three topics in the conversation were : “fight against corruption”, “corruption and looting” and “looting of public funds”. However, the use of the“NOT loot*” operator to exclude any media items that mention loot or any variations of loot (looting, looted, etc), returns a reduced total amount of 4 570 mentions and changes the top three topics to: “Road”, “lane blocked” and “Gauteng” respectively.

Looting – Zimbabwe and VBS

In Zimbabwe over the past few weeks a story has developed around the Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, who has been accused of ‘looting’ money from the government’s budget for addressing COVID-19. There was also a National Anti-Looting day in Zimbabwe on 15 June. These topics featured heavily in the South African online conversation. Specifically, it seems as though Julius Malema and the EFF have engaged quite in the conversation around corruption in Zimbabwe. They have generated and driven the Zimbabwe-focused anti-corruption conversation online.

The EFF’s engagement with corruption in Zimbabwe has been ongoing for the last few months, though it increased drastically during the last reporting period. It is not entirely clear as to why this is happening, one potential explanation is that case of theft and corruption at VBS Bank has gone to court. Leading members of the EFF are implicated in the VBS case, in which R2.2 billion was stolen.

It is not entirely clear as to what their motive is, but one possible explanation is that Julius Malema and the EFF may be deliberately flooding the local conversation with mentions of ‘looting’ in Zimbabwe, so that these drown out any mentions of their own looting here in South Africa. It is possible that the EFF are using mentions of looting and corruption in Zimbabwe to deflect the online conversation away from them.

The EFF have also come out against the xenophobia of the #putsouthafricansfirst movement, which has put them in a complicated position. This may also be part of their efforts to direct energy away from the VBS court case. Example Tweet from Mbuyiseni Ndlozi:


In the previous Civil Unrest report #putsouthafricansfirst was identified as a driver of xenophobic sentiment in South Africa. It was noted that this rhetoric may contribute towards xenophobic violence in South Africa. The narrative continues to grow and gain public support. One of five service-delivery protests about electricity involved the looting of a Somali-owned shop.

The above tweet explained that Somali-owned shops were looted because the electricity was cut off in Muvhango, Bophelong, an informal area in Vanderbijlpark. The relationship between the failure to provide electricity leading to the looting of foreign-owned shops is not currently understood. It is expected that as the #PutSouthAfricansFirst narrative continues to grow within South Africa, these kinds of incidents will become more common.

Herman Mashaba announced recently that David Tembe had joined Mashaba’s party, currently named the People’s Dialogue. Tembe was previously the Chief of Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD). Tembe was appointed to that role by Mashaba in 2017. On 10 June 2020 it was revealed that Tembe was not the most suitable candidate for the role. Mashaba’s appointing Tembe to Chief of Police and then having him join the People’s Dialogue may indicate that there was a strong relationship between Mashaba and Tembe.

There has been a worrying trend recently where some police information, about the arrests of foreigners, has been made public. CABC analysts are investigating this further, however the working theory is that Tembe, as the former Chief of JMPD, is able to get acting police officers to provide him with information about the arrests of foreigners, which is then used to support the #PutSouthAfricansFirst narrative. An example tweet can be found on the left.

These communications elicit strong negative responses. The narrative is often focused on the employment of foreign Africans over South Africans, such as this in this tweet:

The #putsouthafricans first narrative focuses on the large number of foreign Africans who are employed in South Africa, while there are so many unemployed South Africans, they also speak about the crimes that foreign Africans commit, blaming Nigerians in particular for drug dealing and prostitution. Another topic of conversation is the ‘stealing’ of South African women by foreign African men.

Most recently the hashtag #nigeriansmustfall has been trending on Twitter. A video of a young woman dancing and twerking in front of a group of men drinking and smoking is said to have been the catalyst for this. The narrative accompanying this video, which is said to be from Parklands, outside Cape Town, is that the men are Nigerians, and the young woman was drugged and forced to dance for the men.

At 16.00 on 12 June, #nigeriansmustfall had zero mentions, by the end of 16 June it had been mentioned 18 057 times on South African social media, with the top topics in this conversation being: “selling drugs”, “stay in Nigeria” and “Nigerians are a problem”.

This Tweet is one response from a South African to what has become known as the #parklands video:

CABC is investigating this and will continue to publish on this topic. It is viewed as a serious threat to social cohesion in the long-term.

Civil Unrest Trends on the Horizon

Civil Services

Previously civil services, such as the police and hospitals were identified as potential points of protest in the future. 2 hospitals in the Eastern Cape recorded protests over this reporting period. One protest was by support staff and general workers, who stopped cleaning linen or removing medical waste from the hospital, while the other protest was conducted by medical staff, after 25 of their colleagues tested positive with coronavirus. In both cases staff are concerned about their well-being and the measures the hospital is taking to protect and care for its employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

There is concern that public services and facilities, such as hospitals, schools and police stations, will take further strain as the coronavirus cases increase across the country. Public services in rural and remote areas, where access to PPE or other sanitation measures is limited, are viewed as high-risk locations for protests by either staff or members of the public.

Reopening Schools

Schools are also another site of potential protest, with a number of political actors (such as Mmusi Mmaimane and Julius Malema) coming out in opposition to schools reopening, and a number of schools being found to be inadequately prepared for the planned reopening. The reopening of a number of schools has been delayed. While at Rhodes High School in Cape Town, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) protested against the reopening of the school. It is unclear why COSAS protested at Rhodes High School in particular, or what COSAS’s relationship is with other organisations or protest movements.Preparing schools for reopening has been complicated by the fact that in some areas villages or towns do not have running water, and schools are being provided with water to enable them to reopen, inline with the COVID-19 regulations, and this has led to unhappiness from residents in the area.

It does seem that there is sufficient uncertainty with regards to school readiness, there is jealousy over resource prioritisation in low-resource areas and a number of parents and commentators are anxious about the safety of learners, this may be a protest-point in future. These protests may be localised and limited only to particular schools or districts.

Public Transport

In the previous Civil Unrest report the taxi industry was identified as a potential flash-point for protests. This was in anticipation of the proposed price-hike that the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) had said would come into effect on 15 June. The price hike did not occur, instead at least two other taxi associations have joined the conversation, saying that they will increase prices on 1 July. Under the new coronavirus regulations, taxis are only permitted to operate at 70% capacity, in order to enable social distancing within the taxis. This has meant that taxis drivers are earning less money than they usually do and commuters have longer waits at transit points. Taxi associations have requested financial relief from the South African government. This has met with some resistance as taxi operators do not pay taxes to the South African government on their fares. The Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalule, was due to meet with representatives of the various taxi associations on 18 June to discuss this. As of 19 June it has been announced that R1.1 billion will be made available to support the taxi industry. It is hoped that this will result in taxi drivers not increasing their fares on 1 July.

Go George Busses, a company operating public-transport busses in George, the second largest city in the Western Cape, has been in the news this week with drivers threatening to stop working in protest over unsafe working conditions and their fears of contracting the coronavirus. Similar to hospitals, staff are scared of contracting the coronavirus and are not satisfied with the safety measures their employers have put in place.

These kinds of protests, where public services such as busses are interrupted, may cause civil unrest in future as those inconvenienced by these protests may then protest themselves.


This week’s protest commentary is shorter than it was in previous weeks. This is as a result of a lower number of politically-motivated protests observed, and a reduced volume of conversation online regarding protests and civil unrest. A large proportion of the online conversation was dedicated to looting, specifically referring to the looting of state-resources and corruption.

The looting conversation was dominated by the EFF and their focus on the corruption in Zimbabwe and Minister of Health Obadiah Moyo. It is unclear if the EFF’s engagement in this conversation is altruistic, or if it is an effort to deflect attention away from the investigation into the fraud and money laundering case involving the VBS bank and senior EFF members.

The #PutSouthAfricansFirst narrative continues to grow and develop following online. This week saw the emergence of the new hashtag #nigeriansmustfall, which trended after the #parklands video circulated on social media. The looting of a Somali shop in Vanderbijlpark and the increasingly violent language used online, as well as the publicising of the arrests of foreign nationals indicates that this is a growing risk, and one that will likely result in more civil unrest in the coming months. This narrative holds within it the very real possibility of spilling over into lethal violence, as we saw in 2008.

There is concern about South African public services, such as hospitals, schools and busses, and their continued operation during the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic. As South Africa moves from stricter lockdown conditions the number of coronavirus patients is expected to increase, this will place additional burden on these already-strained public services. There is concern, particularly with hospitals in rural areas, that these facilities may be closed by staff, and this would greatly jeopardise the country’s ability to manage the coronavirus pandemic in the medium-term.

Appendix A: Protest Query

Protest Query:
(#protestaction OR #unrest OR #looting OR #riots OR #riot OR #protests OR #shutdown OR toytoy OR looting) OR (“burning tires” OR “blocking road” OR “public protest”OR “protest action” OR “toy-toy”) OR ((protest* OR boipelaetso OR “ho toyi toya” OR baipelaetsi OR boipelaetso OR mogwantong OR badiraditshupetso OR “batho ba ba neng ba le mo mogwantong” OR izikhalazo OR ukuyichasa OR sabaqhankqalazi OR umchasi OR riot* OR morusu OR moferefere OR merusu OR “batho ba bakang merusu” OR “ho baka morusu” OR dikhuduego OR “tsosa khuduego” OR dintwa OR dikhuduego OR “ba etsang merusu” OR dikhuduego OR uqhushululu OR “izikhalazo isidubedube” OR neziphithiphithi OR Bavuthayo OR ukuzabalaza OR “ukuvusa uqhushululu” OR uqhankqalazo)*

NEAR/10 ((basic OR essential* OR fundamental OR water OR food OR electricity) OR (freedom OR libert* OR ((civil OR public OR constitutional) NEAR/2 rights)) OR (((Medical OR health OR hospital OR PPE) NEAR/2 staff) OR nurse* OR doctor*) OR (worker* OR employee* OR staff) OR ((Prison NEAR/2 (staff OR officer* OR inmate*)) OR prisoner*))) OR author:RiotAndAttackSA OR author:BOSBEER2006 OR author:1SecondLater OR author:ProtestZA OR author:MARIUSBROODRYK OR author:IanCameron23 OR author:SAPoliceService OR author:ArriveAlive OR author:netstartraffic OR author:PigSpotter OR author:AfriNewsAgency OR author:takatsomoloi OR author:JoburgMPD OR author:TrafficSA OR author:viewfinderjourn OR author:sjcoalition OR author:UniteBehind OR author:ER24EMS OR author:EMERGCONTROL OR author:KZNEMS OR author:randpigspot OR author:FatalMoves OR author:takatsomoloi OR author:JPSAorg OR author:LimaCharlie1 OR author:ArriveAlive OR author:SAcrimefighters OR author:EWNTraffic OR author:GPCommSafety OR author:Dashcampros OR author:TrafficRTMC OR author:GTPTraffstats OR author:Abramjee OR author:1SecondLater OR author:CALSZA OR author:stolencarRSA OR author:SALTruckers OR author:WomenProtestSA OR author:FatalMoves NOT (striker* OR huawei* OR #huaweiP40series OR “George Floyd” OR US OR USA)*

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