Violence is escalating in parts of South Africa. What began as a protest against the imprisonment of ex-President Jacob Zuma has rapidly developed into bloody riots. Now the army comes into play.
In South Africa, after days of rioting following the imprisonment of ex-President Jacob Zuma, the government sent soldiers to two provinces. The troops would support the police in the Gauteng region with the metropolis of Johannesburg and the province of KwaZulu-Natal in containing the unrest, the army announced on Monday. According to police, at least ten people were killed in the riot, including an 11-year-old boy.
Long-time President Zuma was sentenced to a 15-month prison sentence by the Constitutional Court at the end of June for disregarding the judiciary. While many South Africans hailed the ex-head’s arrest as a success for the rule of law in the country, supporters of Zuma took to the streets.
Ramaphosa is “sad”
“In the past days and nights there have been acts of violence of a kind that we have seldom seen in the history of our democracy,” said Ramaphosa, who was “sad” in view of the events. It was the second day in a row that Ramaphosa made a speech to the nation on the violence in the country.
Experts warned that the riots could affect the corona vaccination campaign in South Africa. They warned on Monday that vaccination centers have already been “destroyed or looted”. Ramaphosa said the vaccination campaign, which had just got underway, had been “seriously disrupted”.
Chaotic scenes in Johannesburg
The protests turned violent in many places. On Monday, buildings were set on fire and houses looted for the fourth day in a row, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, the home province of Zumas. Protesters set fire to a shopping center in the provincial capital Pietermaritzburg. In Eshowe, a town near Zuma’s hometown of Nkandla, police opened fire to disperse the crowd.
Chaotic scenes also played out in Johannesburg: dozens of cars were set on fire, shop windows smashed. Many stores closed prematurely in more affluent neighborhoods. A security guard at a mall in the affluent suburb of Rosebank told AFP that the mall had been shut down early because of information about approaching looters.
A police helicopter circled over the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto, where looters were also on the move. They sometimes carried huge TV sets and other electrical appliances such as microwaves from stores.
Police blame “criminals and opportunists”
A police spokesman blamed “criminals and opportunists” for the chaotic situation. There were 489 arrests. The police had previously given the number of deaths as six and arrests as 219. Police said several of the dead were gunshot wounds. An investigation into the identity of the victims and the circumstances of their death is ongoing.
The demonstrations had turned into “ethnically motivated violence”, warned President Cyril Ramaphosa in a TV address on Sunday evening. Zuma belongs to the Zulu ethnic group, while Ramaphosa belongs to the Venda group and large parts of its supporters within the ruling party belong to the Xhosa group. Tribalism (tribal system) is not tolerated in South Africa, said Ramaphosa; Violent criminals would be prosecuted.
But the corona pandemic, which triggered a serious economic crisis in the state on the Cape, could also contribute to the disproportionate riots. The country is hardest hit in Africa with almost 2.2 million cases. Millions of people are struggling to survive; Poverty and food insecurity have worsened dramatically in just a few months. Even before the pandemic, Africa’s second largest economy was in a difficult position.
Zuma popular with the poor
The 79-year-old Zuma is still popular with poorer South Africans, even after numerous corruption scandals. The former fighter against apartheid came to power in 2009 as a beacon of hope for the poor. With many South Africans, however, he lost all credibility through his countless corruption affairs. At the beginning of 2018, the scandalous president preceded a dismissal with his resignation.
Zuma is due to appear again in court next Monday. The ongoing proceedings concern an arms scandal from 1999; Zuma was Vice President at the time. In connection with the scandal, he is charged, among other things, with fraud, bribery and organized crime.