State collapse and load shedding – what executives fear most in South Africa

The biggest perceived risk to South Africa in 2024 is load shedding, with fears over a state collapse easing over the last year.

This is according to the Executive Opinion Survey (EOS) in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risk Report, which uses data from over 12,000 business leaders from 113 countries to identify the biggest risks to each country over the next two years.

The EOS data is then combined with the data from the Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS), which uses insights from 1,500 experts across academia, business, government, the international community and civil society.

The GRPS highlights a mainly negative outlook over the short term, which is expected to worsen over the long term.

Most respondents (54%) said they expect some form of instability and moderate risk of global catastrophes. Only 16% expect a stable or calm outlook in the next two years.

This worsens over the 10-year outlook, with 63% having a turbulent outlook and less than 10% expecting a calm situation.

In the EOS survey, executives said that South Africa’s biggest risk over the next two years relates to the country’s energy supply.

Although experts do not believe that South Africa will experience the same levels of load shedding experienced in 2023 – amid a rapid rise in renewable energies – Eskom’s challenges mean that South Africa will likely still experience rolling blackouts for much of 2024.

According to independent energy analyst Pieter Jordaan, South Africans will likely experience 2.5 blackout hours per day – down from the 4.8 hours in 2023.

Fears over an energy supply shortage are not uncommon among the nations queried in the report, with this factor also emerging as the greatest risk to Bangladesh, Chad, Honduras and Uzbekistan. At the same time, the UK ranks energy shortages as its third biggest risk, and Belgium ranks it second.

As per the EOS, fears over South Africa’s energy supply are followed by economic downturn, unemployment, state fragility and water supply shortages.

Notably, the biggest fear in 2023 was a state collapse, and fears have eased over the last year.

The WEF no longer has ‘state collapse’ in its national risk list, with ‘state fragility and the failure to provide public services’ the most comparable.

Although state fragility/collapse still ranks in the top five, it has dropped from first in 2023 to fourth in 2024.

Rank2023 SA Biggest Risks2024 SA Biggest Risks
1State CollapseEnergy supply shortage
2Debt CrisisEconomic downturn
3Collapse of services and public infrastructureUnemployment
4Cost-of-living crisisState Fragility
5Employment and livelihood crisisWater-Supply Shortage
Source: WEF

The biggest fears for executives in popular countries that South Africans like to immigrate revolved around economic concerns, with an economic downturn being the biggest risk in the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

In Ireland and the Netherlands, a labour shortage was listed as the biggest concern.