HOW THE SOUTH AFRICAN UNREST INFLUENCED THE COLD CHAIN AND FOOD SECURITY
By Maricia Smith
In the wake of the #FreeZuma unrest and looting, it is easy to say that every South African viewed video footage of various KwaZulu Natal (KZN) warehouses and retail stores burning, but every South African may not realise the implications that the destruction had on the food security and cold chain in South Africa. A significant share of food produce is perishable and without an efficient cold chain food would spoil before it reaches consumers. Warehouses and cold storage services such as those in KZN allow our food to be stored and distributed to retailers safely and efficiently.
LOGISTICS AND COLD STORAGE AFFECTED
Major logistics companies have reported significant damage and disruptions to their operations. Most of the warehouse and logistics companies affected are located in KZN where the looting and unrest brought the province to a standstill. Value Warehousing, which provides ambient and cold storage, was forced to close its Cato Ridge KZN operations because the facility was targeted by looters. The Cato Ridge facility is one of Value Warehousing’s largest hubs and provides storage and distribution of produce and food to major retail stores. Steven Gottschalk, the CEO of Value Logistics stated in an interview with Moneyweb that ‘…. there was so much stock in the warehouse that it took three days to empty, with thousands of looters helping themselves on a 24/7 spree’.
Other cold chain companies affected by the unrest are, Vector Logistics whose cold storage facility in Cornubia was looted and Imperial Logistics who was forced to ground its fleet and operations in high-risk areas after some of their truck drivers were subjected to violent altercations with looters. Some of the drivers were held at gunpoint to allow rioters to use Imperial’s fleet to block highways in part of KZN. Many trucks transporting foods and exporting produce had to completely stop driving as many drivers justifiably feared for their lives. On Mandela Day, Sequence Logistics cold storage warehouse in Hammarsdale was looted with dozens of individuals stealing meat and other goods.
Relative calm has now settled over KZN and Gauteng with many businesses trying to recoup their losses and the N3 national road being reopened with the South African National Defence Force escorting various trucks carrying food supplies. The damage to infrastructure, the livelihoods of various businesses and more particularly the damage to the food chain is considered below.
IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY AND FOOD SECURITY
The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) has stated that the unrest “has translated to huge damage for Durban’s economy”. With stock losses of more than R1.5 billion and damage to property and equipment worth more than
R15 billion. The DCCI also emphasized that the warnings about possible food insecurity should not be taken lightly.
On a broader scale, the looting has led to challenges in the national meat and citrus industry. The Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE) says that the import food industry has lost 40 000 tons of cold storage capacity and that significant volumes of raw material have been lost as a result of the past weeks’ unrest in KZN. AMIE confirms that this will lead to a reduction in the supply and manufacturing of protein products in the short term.
The citrus industry was in its peak season when the looting broke out in KZN and Gauteng. With the N2 and N3 national roads blocked at that stage, the citrus producers were forced to hold back citrus shipments designated for export and had to keep the fruit in cold storage on the farms until the road was safe again. The fruits could not be stored in the port of Durban because most of the cold storage facilities were closed due to the employees being unable to get to their place of employment. Justin Chadwick, the CEO of the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa also stated in an interview with Farmers Weekly, that even though the national roads were set to open there would still be negative consequences on the market. The sudden influx of products to port would lead to bottlenecks and would flood the markets with citrus products which would saturate the market and decrease demand.
The fears espoused by organisations such as AgriSA, AMIE and DCCI regarding food insecurity appears to hold much truth since there has been increased food loss and wastage as a result of perishable foods such as fresh produce, dairy products and meat and fish becoming spoiled due to the lack of cold storage provision.
Chris Makhaye reports on All Africa.com that hundreds of people were queuing outside Alexandra Mall in Johannesburg on Thursday 15 July 2021 to try to buy basic supplies. Many businesses in Johannesburg and Durban have limited the amount that shoppers were allowed to buy.
Despite the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the looting and turmoil KZN and Gauteng were subjected to earlier this month, a clear conclusion can be drawn, being that the cold storage warehousing and logistics services form a key part of not only the food chain but the South African economy. The unrest should also be a reminder to cold storage providers in South Africa that their businesses are not operating in a bubble and that their businesses are susceptible to socio-political unrest and civil unrest. Businesses operating in the cold and food chains need to work together to mitigate risk, share intelligence and lobby for stronger regulation and government support and protection.
 Roy Cokoane, Moneyweb, 16 July 2021, Vital links taken out of the supply chain by unrest and looting, https://www.moneyweb.co.za/news/south-africa/vital-links-taken-out-of-the-supply-chain-by-unrest-and-looting/ (accessed on 19 July 2021)
 Times Live, 18 July 2021, Hammarsdale cold storage looted and set alight as hundreds clean up on Mandela Day, https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2021-07-18-hammarsdale-cold-storage-looted-and-set-alight-as-hundreds-clean-up-on-mandela-day/ (accessed 20 July 2021)
 Marleny Arnoldi, 20 July 2021, Engineering News, Meat Importers call for expedited flow of product through Durban port https://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/meat-importers-call-for-expedited-flow-of-product-through-durban-port-2021-07-20 (accessed on 22 July 2021)
 Lindi Botha, 13 July 2021, Farmers Weekly, SA’s food security and trade fall victim to violent protests, https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/sas-food-security-and-trade-fall-victim-to-violent-protests/ (accessed on 22 July 2021)
 Jing Zang, 19 July 2021, Produce Report, South Africa’s Citrus Sector Suffers Amid Violent Protests, www.producereport.com/article/south-africas-citrus-sector-suffers-amid-violent-protests (accessed 21 July 2021).