Civil unrest report commentary: 17 June – 23 June

For the period of 17 – 23 June the Protest Query run by CABC returned: 15 912 mentions. 6 960 unique authors were involved in the conversation. Using that query 58 separate protests were identified as having occurred in the past week within South Africa. This document provides analysis and commentary on those protests, as well as on the online conversation about protests and civil unrest in South Africa.

The Query

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

The query only gathers media items from within South Africa. For the period 17 June – 23 June, the query returned a total of 15 912 mentions. A total of 6 960 unique authors were involved in the conversation. Total mentions increased by 14%, up from 13 991, while unique authors increased by 11%, from 6 280.

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 300.

The increase in volume on 17 June was caused by various online commentators discussing the arrest of 8 people involved in the case of theft and fraud at VBS bank. The tweet below, by @DjNewAfrica, was a driver of this volume, with 644 retweets.

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

As can be seen, #vbsarrests was the most-used hashtag found using the civil unrest query, it was mentioned 1216 times between 17 and 23 June. Other important hashtags were #taxistrike and #taxishutdown, with a combined 301 mentions. #putsouthafricansfirst was mentioned 138 times within the civil unrest conversation.#zanupfmustgo was mentioned 119 times. #Blacklivesmatter has now almost completely faded from the conversation, with only 35 mentions.

The word-cloud below shows the top phrases and words used by South Africans involved in the conversation on protests during the week of 17 – 23 June:

Here again, VBS dominated the conversation, with the top phrases and words being VBS, bank and corruption having 3252, 1915 and 1680 mentions respectively. Other topics of conversation that dominated the keywords and phrases graphic were those related to Zimbabwe and the evolving corruption scandal, COVIDgate, with Obadiah Moyo, Zanu PF and Mnangagwa all featuring in the above word-cloud.

Protests Occuring in South Africa 17 – 23 June

A total of fifty-eight protests were recorded in the Civil Unrest Report for the period 17 June – 23 June.

The table below shows a breakdown of the motives or issues that led to the protests occurring:

Table 1: Civil Unrest Summary

There was a significant increase in civil unrest captured this week compared with the previous week, where only twenty-seven protests were recorded. The CABC is of the view that this is caused primarily by an increase in the actual number of protests occurring within South Africa, though improvements in data gathering processes may account for some of this increase.

Service Delivery issues were the single biggest driver of protests, with at least 16 protests being service-delivery protests. The majority of these were related to electricity supply in Gauteng. Formal media sources and City Power both note that power cuts across Johannesburg, particularly to informal areas, have been recurring over the past month and are expected to continue over the coming months.

Ten protests were COVID-19 related, of which six protests were related to health and safety concerns in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Access to PPE and employee safety have been issues of concern for health workers and those working in public-service jobs, such as teachers, bus drivers and police officers. There was a bus strike in George, the second-biggest city in the Western Cape, after GO George Bus Service employees tested positive for coronavirus. Staff at three hospitals: Boitumelo Hospital, Kroonstad, Free State, False Bay Hospital, in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, and Khayelitsha Day Hospital protested in three separate incidents. All three of these protests were related to staff unhappiness over working conditions and inadequate provision of PPE at their hospitals. The remaining four COVID-19 related protests were driven by the taxi industry. The South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) coordinated a shut down of taxi services at multiple locations across Gauteng. These protests were captured as COVID-19 protests because they were related to income lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The three housing-related protests all occurred in Cape Town, in Hangberg, near Hout Bay and Dunoon, near Milnerton. These protests have been ongoing and were noted in previous reports, they are related to the removal of illegal housing structures by City of Cape Town officials.

Two instances of vigilante justice were picked up during the data gathering process. While these are not specifically protests, they have been captured here as they are a form of civil unrest. In one instance, residents in Botshabelo, east of Bloemfontein, looted a spaza-shop owned by foreign nationals. It is alleged that a South African tried to rob the shop, and the shop owners killed the man, which led to the looting of the store. In the other incident, residents of Bohlokong, Free State, closed a road with burning tires and assaulted a man who was believed to have killed a friend of his.

Social justice issues such as racism, BlackLivesMatter (BLM) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) have been topical issues in previous weeks, however it seems that attention has moved onto other issues as of this week. BlackLivesMatter (BLM) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) accounted for three of the fifty-eight protests.

The ‘School Closure’ protest was related to the abrupt closure of a school, Bishop Bavin School, in Bedfordview, Johannesburg. The school closed down, providing very little notice to learners or teachers, who then protested at the school.

One protest occurred at Butterworth Prison in the Eastern Cape, where awaiting-trial detainees demanded to be taken to court for their hearings, however the court was closed as a result of COVID-19.

The Taxi Industry protest refers to a protest that occurred in Malelane, Mpumalanga, that was related to corruption within the taxi industry in that region.

The motive for protests was unknown in twenty-one cases. CABC analysts speculate that a number of these protests were related to service delivery issues, however this is currently unverified.

Situational Analysis

While there was an increase in the number of protests found this week, there were fewer overarching narratives or causes driving these protests. Blacklivesmatter protests have faded in South Africa, and protests against lockdown restrictions, except for those in the taxi industry, did not take place this week.


Looting continues to feature as a topic within the conversation online. The query examines both the physical looting of stores as well as the metaphorical looting of government resources or corruption. Though it is the latter, corruption and looting by the government, that dominates the online conversation.

The top five topics within the civil unrest conversation, ranked by mentions, were: ANC, VBS looting, Hawks, Obadiah Moyo and EFF, with 1177, 787, 774, 704 and 605 mentions respectively. The conversations around each of these topics tended to be critical of politicians for looting and corruption. The online conversation regarding VBS bank, the EFF and corruption has expanded across party lines to include the ANC and politicians from various parties. This tweet, authored by Helen Zille, was one of the drivers of volume within the conversation online, reaching over 670 000 eyeballs on Twitter:

#VBSarrests was the number one hashtag in the conversation. Julius Malema has announced this week that he will hold an open press conference with the five journalists to discuss the VBS bank case and investigations into the EFF and their potential benefit from the fraud. It is expected that the VBS case and the EFF will continue to feature in the online conversation, though physical protests related to this are seen as unlikely in the near future.

Corruption in Zimbabwe continues to feature strongly as part of the South African conversation. Obadiah Moyo, the Minister of Health in Zimbabwe, was the number four top topic by volume this week. He was recently arrested over his role in a corruption scandal in Zimbabwe, COVIDgate. It is unlikely that corruption in Zimbabwe will result in protests in South Africa, however, considering the worsening economic situationfood shortages and the increase in coronavirus cases, there may be significant levels of civil unrest and protest in Zimbabwe over the coming months. This may result in harm to those living in Zimbabwe, and increased pressure on South Africa as a site for economic migrants.

COVID-19: Taxi Protests

SANTACO coordinated a taxi shut-down on Monday 22 June across Johannesburg, roads were blocked, busses were turned away and taxi services were suspended in many areas. As part of the government’s efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus, taxis are limited to operating at 70% of capacity. This is done in order to facilitate social distancing within taxis. Taxi operators have requested financial support from the government to offset this financial loss. Last week Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, announced that the government would give R1.35 billion in financial aid to the taxi industry. SANTACO responded this week saying that this would provide each taxi owner roughly R3 000, and that they believe each taxi owner should receive R20 000. It is unclear how this situation will progress, however with taxi drivers demanding roughly R5 billion and the government saying they would provide no more than the promised R1.35 billion, it seems that more strikes are imminent.

Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

One protest, on the 18th of June, was related to gender-based violence. On 18 June a group of 70 protesters staged a protest against a senior official at Buffalo City College over sexual abuse allegiations, demanding the senior official be fired. While there was only one physical protest related to gender-based violence during the week of 17 to 23 June, the online conversation showed a strong focus on the topic.

‘Gender-based violence’, ‘GBV’ and ‘rape’ were mentioned a total of 78 028 times across the South African social media conversation over the course of the 7 days being reported upon. This was driven in part by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech, which he gave on 17 June, as well as comments he made on Monday 23 June. In the address he gave on 17 June, which was an update to the nation on the Coronavirus pandemic he described gender-based violence as “another pandemic that is raging in our country”. President Ramaphosa explained that 21 women had been murdered in the preceding weeks, with cases such as the murder of Tseghofatso Pule making national headlines.

Gender-based violence has trended online over the past week, and featured as a topic in the CABC’s daily Trend Reports on 17 June18 June and 22 June. Some commentators have expressed anger at the willingness of South African men to protest for BlackLivesMatter after the murder of George Floyd by police in the United States, while they seem unwilling to engage seriously with the problem of gender-based violence in South Africa. While others called on South African men to engage more seriously with their own roles in contributing to misogyny and gender-based violence, such as this one, which was liked 22 900 times and retweeted 7 900 times:

Civil Unrest Trends on the Horizon


#putsouthafricansfirst has continued to feature online, with 24 186 mentions online between 17 June and 23 June. #putsouthafricansfirst generated sufficient volumes to feature in the CABC Daily Trend report for 22 June,. Over the past week xenophobic hashtags such as #nigeriansmustfall and #zimbabweansmustfall have trended on Twitter. Supporters of the movement have posted content and shared ideas online such as this tweet:

This week they announced that there are plans to have a protest in August, as per this tweet:

This tweet frames the planned ‘August Protests’ as protests against the presence of foreign nationals in South Africa and against President Cyril Ramaphosa:

It is currently not known what these protests will entail or when they will be, however the CABC notes with grave concern that #putsouthafricansfirst continues to grow and spread its xenophobic rhetoric online. The CABC believes that this movement will rapidly become xenophobic and violent.

COVID-19: Health and Safety:

It is anticipated that those employed in roles that involve high levels of customer interaction, particularly health workers, bus drivers and supermarket staff, will engage in intermittent protests over the coming months, particularly as the Coronavirus spreads into more rural and remote areas where access to PPE will be more limited.

Service Delivery Protests

Recurring power cuts, that sometimes last days, are expected to be a feature in informal areas around Johannesburg for the immediate future. Consequently, service delivery protests relating to electricity supply are expected to increase over the coming weeks. It is believed that unhappiness about the recurring power cuts is exacerbated as these power cuts are occurring in winter and many people are at home during lockdown.

Prison Protests

Prisons have remained ‘closed’ to visitors since the start of the lockdown in South Africa. Friends and family are not able to visit inmates, either sentenced or unsentenced, at any of the 243 correctional facilities within South Africa. This week the South African Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights (SAPOHR) announced that they would call for ‘disobedience’ in prisons: “This action will include (prisoners) refusing to work, stripping naked, refusing to eat and be counted, mobilising and conscientising the prisoner population to stand up and fight for their right”.


While there was no central narrative driving protests, as there was after George Floyd’s death and the BlackLivesMatter protests spread around the world, this week saw a sharp increase in civil unrest. The total number of protests captured in the Civil Unrest Report increased from twenty-seven last week to fifty-eight this week. This was in part due to the service delivery protests in Johannesburg relating to electricity provision.

The online conversation was focused strongly on corruption and looting state resources. All of the top five topics, by mention, were related to state looting.

Protests relating to COVID-19 are expected to continue in the near future. It is anticipated that staff in public-service organizations such as hospitals, supermarkets and schools, will protest over access to PPE and health concerns at work. The stand-off with the government and SANTACO, around the taxi industry’s COVID-19 related financial loss, is at an impasse and it is unclear how this situation will evolve in the near future.

Service delivery protests regarding electricity, especially in Johannesburg, are expected to continue over the next few weeks and months, as the city will continue to experience power outages as demand outstrips supply.

Prisoners in South Africa have expressed unhappiness that visits are still not permitted at Correctional Facilities, and have expressed a willingness to protest should this situation not change in the near future.

An area of grave concern is the growing online xenophobic rhetoric around the #putsouthafricansfirst movement and their announcement of a planned protest in August. This conversation continues to be monitored closely by the CABC.

Over the coming weeks and months it appears that there may be an increase in the total number of protests, and that these protests will occur across a range of sectors of society.

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)*

About CABC

The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) is a non-profit organisation.  It was established to track and counter mis- and disinformation, fake news and divisive and polarising rhetoric that is promulgated online to undermine social cohesion, democratic integrity, and the stability of nation states.

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