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The recent unrest that began in KwaZulu-Natal and spread to other parts of the country has come at a great cost to local businesses and the economy. According to eThekwini Mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda, it is estimated that the loss of stock and damaged infrastructure caused by the looting and riots which started in early July, stands at around R16 billion. The South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) estimates that over 45 000 businesses and 50 000 informal traders were affected either directly through physical looting or by loss of revenue related to forced closure across the country. While no one could have predicted the scale of these riots and the effect it would have on businesses, there are some protective measures than can be taken against such events.

Be prepared for any eventuality

South Africa has a high unemployment rate and remains one of the most unequal countries in the world with a Gini coefficient of 63.0. As such, dissatisfaction within communities will continue until these challenges are sufficiently addressed. As a business owner, it is important to plan and be prepared for any eventuality as it is likely that we may face similar riots in the future, albeit at a smaller scale.

Network and work together with your community

It is inspiring how communities pulled together to protect property and businesses and to clean up after the recent riots were contained. Humanity achieved when many of our security systems failed. A lesson from this for business owners is the value of working together with other business owners, your community and community structures.

Keep abreast of happenings in your community and look out for news updates and advice from the security agencies. Participate in your community platforms and work together with the SAPS, security companies and community to develop a (re)action plan for your area.

Invest in reliable security systems

Investing in a security system will offer you a better chance of acquiring evidence in the case of looting or damage caused by a riot. The challenge in this context is that looters act in groups, making it difficult to identify individual criminals. However, for the purpose of your business insurance, having evidence that can corroborate your claim might help to fast-track the process of compensation. Security cameras can also serve as a deterrent of crime, dissuading potential looters from targeting your business in future.

Emergency planning

The effects of riots are not only felt in the form of stock and property damage, but also by employees. What these riots have taught many SMEs is that it is prudent to have an emergency plan in place that outlines the course of action for evacuation and quick access to emergency numbers for law enforcement or a private security company. It’s important to assure employees that their safety comes first in the event of an attack on the business premises. Having an emergency policy in place will unfortunately not prevent crime from happening, but it will help employees feel safeguarded and as prepared as possible for any unforeseen emergency.

Revisit your insurance cover

Insurance has been foremost in the minds of many South African small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) owners during this difficult time. Some entrepreneurs may weigh up the cost of business insurance and forego selecting the most comprehensive cover, because the likelihood of large-scale stock or property damage is not considered high. But, depending on the level of cover and the terms and conditions of the policy, commercial insurance can cover damage to assets, loss related to theft, loss of revenue following a business interruption and legal liabilities.

State-owned insurer, South African Special Risks Insurance Association (Sasria) is reported to be shouldering the bulk of the burden with regards to insurance claims linked to the looting. Most commercial insurers sell policies with a Sasria clause that provides cover in the event of damage caused by a riot.

If you’re a business owner whose claim is repudiated by your insurer for any reason, you have the right to file a dispute with an ombudsman or through a court of law. Whichever route you choose, it’s important to be cognisant of the time-bar clause of your policy, which requires the insured to instate legal action against an insurer within a specific time period.

Invest in physical security for property reinforcement

Employing a security service to look after your property could be a deterrent, however there are various ways to reinforce your property against a physical onslaught. Roll-down shutters can also serve as a defence against an attack if there is enough time to activate the barriers. Another option is to install riot glass or glazing shields that are virtually unbreakable; while it may not prevent vandalism, it can prevent forced entry.

What these recent events have taught business owners and SMEs is that being in tune with fellow business owners and your community is as important as investing in protective measures such as security and business insurance, which should always be prioritised. Major events like national riots, civil unrest or even natural disasters are always a possibility, so it’s important to have reliable information sources and a plan of action in place for when the unforeseen happens.

About the Author: Ben Bierman

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Ben Bierman has been our Managing Director since 2015. He joined our company in 1990 and has risen through the ranks occupying various positions ranging from being a management accountant, Head of Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer. Ben is an avid reader, enjoys classical music and being in the outdoors including for hunting trips. He is our go-to-spokesperson for our SME Confidence Index, SME sector policy and trend matters, and business leadership articles.