Johannesburg – “No life should be lost in my name, and also, the ANC should never be divided in my name. I have therefore come to the decision to resign as President of the Republic with immediate effect.”
These were the words of Jacob Zuma in 2018 when he used a media conference to announce that he was stepping down as President of South Africa.
Three short years later, more than 70 people have died in just one week, and scores others have been injured as violence erupted in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng following Zuma’s imprisonment for contempt of court last week.
The violence started as protests by people who felt that their hero was being politically targeted by investigators probing alleged corruption and “state capture” during the 2009-2018 Zuma Presidency. These protests were very quickly hijacked by criminal elements, who embarked on an orgy of violence and looting, which has prompted the deployment of the SA National Defence Forces to assist an overwhelmed police force.
Property worth tens of millions has been stolen or destroyed, houses have burnt and lives have been lost in a week of madness that analysts say will scar South Africa socially, emotionally, politically and economically for quite a while.
Of the 45 deaths reported in Gauteng by the time of writing, ten were of people crushed to death in a stampede at Ndofaya Shopping Centre in Johannesburg as looters besieged the complex.
Some of the deaths are reported to have been caused by explosions when people tried to break into banking facilities, while other fatalities were the result of shootings in a country in which an estimated three million people own firearms – many of them illegally.
The violence has not spared hospitals and correctional facilities, amidst reports that law enforcement foiled a planned arson attack on a health institution full of patients and that gangs have tried to break into at least one prison so as to free all inmates there.
Philip Aruna of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told The Southern Times Wednesday that, “The urgency of ensuring that health facilities and supplies are not targeted during social unrest and violence is crucial, even more so during the height of the current wave of COVID-19 infections.”
Not About Zuma
Soweto is one of the worst affected townships in Gauteng.
When The Southern Times, accompanied by police, arrived at Jabulani Mall on Tuesday, all the shops had been ransacked.
The police were clearly outnumbered and ill-equipped to deal with the marauders, who made quick work of the mall.
The Southern Times spoke to public violence researcher Inock Moose, who said that what South Africa was experiencing was far from a protest related to Zuma’s imprisonment, but rather it was socio-economic disorder fueled by factionalism in the ruling ANC and issues related to poverty, such as youth unemployment.
“The demonstrations started in KwaZulu-Natal but they were later hijacked by hungry and frustrated citizens who saw it as an opportunity to break the law and voice themselves through violence.
“Unemployment in very high in this country that’s why you see a lot of those involved in these crimes were the youths. The lockdowns have worsened poverty among the people hence all this chaos was no longer about Zuma but bread and butter issues addressed in a chaotic situation,” Moose said.
He continued: “For long protesters in South Africa have been left to believe that if they don’t burn tyres or act in a do some distraction manner, their petition is not taken seriously. This is not the first time we have seen burning of tyres and looting, just that the strain put on (livelihoods) by the covid pandemic might have made it worse this time.
“Those who witnessed this violence would agree with me that the police seemed more relaxed than ever. Remember the ruling party itself is torn apart due to factionalism. Some ministers are allegedly aligned to Zuma hence there could have been some acts of sabotage aimed at discrediting the incumbent, time will tell.”
Boots on the Ground
The inability – or as Moose suggested, unwillingness – of the police to deal with the mayhem saw the government authorise an initial deployment of 2,500 soldiers to deal with rioters, arsonists and murderers stalking the streets of the two affected provinces.
Monday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation and referred to the unrest as driven by “ethnic mobilisation”.
On Tuesday morning, the executive security cluster in Tshwane called for an immediate end to the violence.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said, “For now, I don’t think there is an indication that there should be a state of emergency. We’re all concerned about what is happening. A state of emergency, however, means that you take all the liberties from the citizens and the military takes over the country. For now, we don’t think we’ve reached that point.”
But the deployment of the military troops did not stop the looting, which spilled into subsequent days.
A question the defence minister has since had to contend with is why far less soldiers than the 20,000 troops deployed last year to enforce COVID-19 regulations were let out of the barracks to assist the police.
“When we talk numbers, we also have to talk possible expenditure incurred for the deployment of those people… We’re informed by intelligence, and then we will decide about what kind of strength we need for deployment, and then we will make an announcement,” the minister said.
The government subsequently sent 25,000 soldiers onto the streets. And vigilante groups have been sprouting in affected provinces, further contributing to the mayhem in their attempts to protect themselves and their communities.
Zuma resigned from the presidency in 2018 following intense pressure from an ANC faction that wanted Mr Ramaphosa to take over, but his ghost is still haunts the corridors of power.
From 2018, Zuma has been in and out of courts in an effort to pin him for alleged corruption. His refusal to co-operate with an enquiry into “state capture” led to his recent jailing – without the accused having an opportunity to state his side of the story.
And his supporters have latched onto that to stoke the flames, which criminal elements have poured fuel on over the past week.
Political analyst Lindiwe Thula told The Southern Times that, “The ANC has never been this divided, the country has never been this divided, the politics of this country have never been this divided.
“Zuma is no ordinary boy and the Constitutional Court should have foreseen this (when it jailed him for contempt). His supporters had a genuine reason to protest since they argue that he was treated unfairly by being imprisoned without trial.
“Why did they deny Zuma the right to be heard like any other accused person? If there in anyone to blame for this loss of life and livelihoods, it’s the courts. Lives have been lost because they want to prove a point!”
She also said, “Zuma has many sympathisers, and the ANC is now divided because of Zuma. They are now busy firing and suspending each other. The president said the violence is fueled by ethnic differences; to an extent yes, but I think this is a matter of unaddressed political differences gone too far.”
SA violence hurts SADC economies
Harare – The violent unrest in South Africa will hurt several Southern African countries that are trying to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Africa is the biggest exporter and importer in the SADC region, and economic disruption in the country will be felt by its neighbours.
On July 13, the rand was down three percent to R14.66 against the US dollar as rioting and violence continued in South Africa.
The strength – or weakness – has an impact on the economies of Southern Africa Customs Union, in which South Africa participates along with Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho and Namibia.
Further, the Common Monetary Area links the currencies of eSwatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa.
The FTSE/Johannesburg Stock Exchange Africa All-Share Index was 0.4 percent down on July 13 as the rand weakened for a second day against the dollar.
In addition, the Port of Durban has been targeted, which could disrupt regional trade; as well as mass storage facilities holding consumer goods for both the local and foreign markets.
Trucks have been torched on the N3, the highway that connects landlocked SADC countries to the Port of Durban via Johannesburg.
The blockade of roads will have a severe impact on the distribution industry, not only is SA but in other countries as well,” said Polite Masiye, owner of two trucks that were touched.
Joseph Tembo, who is also in logistics, told The Southern Times that, “These events are being reported globally, resulting in significant loss of confidence in our country as an investment destination, at a time we are competing with more positive destinations in different parts of the world. Obviously, many jobs will be lost after this madness aggravating an already high unemployment rate.”
Another immediately felt impact was the closure of businesses as owners feared looting and arson, meaning economic productivity is down and investor confidence has been shaken.
“The prospect of people coming onto the streets in the future may introduce a new, potentially uncontrollable element of uncertainty about the country’s future direction and thus have a more negative effect on business confidence and investment,” said economic analyst Tatenda Nyachega.
Such developments do not bode well for South Africa’s neighbours.
According to research by Transformation, Integration and Globalisation Economic Research, “Having a neighbouring country in conflict reduces foreign direct investment; conflict is a serious problem hindering growth in developing countries, especially Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Specifically, the study finds out that. It is the total number of borders in conflict rather than just having one border in conflict that hurts neighbours’ economic growth most both directly and indirectly. It is the duration of the unrest, rather than its existence, that indirectly reduces growth-enhancing variables in neighbouring countries.
“Conflict in neighbouring countries scares investors to the entire region. Conflicts in neighbouring countries affect economic development and not only growth since variables that enhance wellbeing enhancing are also affected.”