Bitter ethnic sentiments, uprising, looting, arson, and general violence litter South Africa’s highway to bringing former president, Jacob Zuma, to justice.
Unlike in other parts of the world where errant leaders have been imprisoned, South Africa has been convulsed in ethnic upheaval since Zuma surrendered himself at the Estcourt Correctional Centre in his native KwaZulu-Natal to begin his 15-month jail term for contempt of court.
Feeling aggrieved about the sentence, Zuma’s supporters have rioted in two provinces – KwaZulu-Natal (Durban is here) and Gauteng (Johannesburg is here) – since July 7, leading to scores of deaths and mass arrests.
The rioters are setting a dangerous precedent and jeopardising Africa’s on-and-off crusade to bring corrupt leaders to justice.
After more than a week of violent turmoil, 72 persons have been confirmed dead. The police, who had four officers injured, made 1,700 arrests.
The police battled the rioters but were overwhelmed by their sheer numbers. In the lawlessness that ensued, shops, malls and vaccination centres were looted, and set ablaze in Johannesburg and Durban.
The rioters have blocked most of the major highways in the country, preventing food and medicines supply from reaching the critical areas where they are needed. This is a stain on Africa.
It is a huge setback for South Africa. Economically, it is a disaster. On July 14, 200 incidents of looting and vandalism were recorded. Retailers lost 2.0 billion rands to the looting and arson in the two provinces.
The rand (South Africa’s currency), which had been on the rise, has dropped to a three-month low in the past few days.
Two hundred shopping malls were looted and torched. All this exacerbates the poverty level and the 32.6 per cent unemployment rate, regarded as very high.
It hurts the very people who are rioting on behalf of Zuma. They should have a rethink.
South Africa has not witnessed such large-scale violence since apartheid ended 27 years ago.
This episode began building up shortly after the country’s highest court convicted Zuma on June 29 for failure to attend an enquiry probing corruption allegations during his nine-year presidential tenure (2008-2018).
Although Zuma denied the corruption allegations, he defied the court hearings.
He was justly punished for disobeying the law, but rather than allow the rule of law to prevail, his supporters, who are mainly the poor from his ethnic stock, joined the fray.
This is disturbing. No man -past president or not- is above the law.
Besides, the protests have disrupted social life and the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Africa is experiencing the third wave of the virus. This disruption is ill-advised; it will aggravate the spread of the pandemic.
People living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are endangered because they have not been able to access treatment centres and their medicines.
After initially deploying a 2,500 troop-strength, which has now been boosted to 25,000 with army reserves, President Cyril Ramaphosa should quickly take other measures to counter the protesters.
Corruption has no other name. Thus, the South African authorities should be lauded in their bid to make Zuma answer for the proven misbehaviour while he was in office.
There were several allegations of corruption against Zuma when he was president, including ‘state capture,’ described as siphoning off state assets in collusion with his cronies and dubious firms.
He is being tried separately for a $5 billion deal in the 1990s.