Paper: Fragile food systems and political fragility: exploring the link in post-Covid-19 South Africa

Paper details

Paper authors Elizabeth Hull, Khulekani T. Dlamini
In panel on Famine and Food Insecurity: New Trends and Systems or Politics as usual?
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person & Online


Food insecurity in South Africa was critical prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, with a child stunting rate of 27%. But the problem deepened quickly during Covid-19 when government controls caused job losses, food supply collapse, and escalating hunger. During the first ‘lockdown’ in 2020, 47% of households ran out of money to buy food. The food and fuel price hikes and political instability that followed led to the July 2021 ‘unrest’—a period of widespread damage, violence and looting that left over 300 people dead. Behind this lies a crisis within the governing African National Congress (ANC) as the prospects of ungovernability and electoral decline loom.
In this paper, we draw on qualitative interviews and ethnography conducted in the province of KwaZulu-Natal to investigate how people continued to secure food as these events unfolded, and how their perceptions of the state changed. Theoretically, the paper explores the links between food insecurity and political legitimacy. Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s analysis of capitalism’s contradictory tendency to destabilise the political institutions it relies on, we explore hunger as a key factor in tipping South Africa's administrative crisis into a deeper crisis of political legitimacy. Weakening governing institutions lead to food insecurity, and hunger in turn threatens state legitimacy.