The toll of the violence in South Africa climbed to over 115 even as 20,000 troops were sent to quell the riots and looting. The protests which initially flared up due to the arrest of popular former South Africa president Jacob Zuma soon expanded to widespread riots, with frustration tipping over growing levels of unemployment and poverty.
While Zuma was arrested to serve his 15-month sentence for contempt of court, the original investigation against him had an Indian connection.
What is the Indian connection with Jacob Zuma?
Zuma had appointed a panel to investigate graft and corruption charges during the last days of his presidency. Zuma had to form the panel following growing discontent among the South African people with charges of corruption. While the panel was investigating cases of corruption, Zuma himself was called to testify, which he refused to do. Zuma’s refusal to testify in front of the panel eventually led to his sentence of contempt of court.
Among 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering, Zuma was also being investigated for his connection to an Indian family.
The Gupta family from Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh emigrated to South Africa in 1993, to establish Sahara Computers. Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh "Tony" Gupta—as well as Atul's nephews Varun, and US-citizens Ashish and Amol were among the prominent members of the family.
The family came into close contact with Zuma before his presidency, and the company flourished to expand to air travel, energy, mining, technology and media.
How was the Gupta family connected with Zuma?
Reports of close connections between Zuma and Gupta families came through the latter’s presidency. The family and Zuma were accused of “state capture” — siphoning state assets and plunder state resources. Zuma’s wife and son were also appointed to high-ranking positions within the Gupta family’s businesses.
In 2016, the connection between Gupta and Zuma was brought to the forefront of the political landscape in South Africa. Allegations against the family included the family promising to promote individuals within the South African government to higher positions and paying out a bribe of 600 million.
More than 1 lakh emails from the Gupta family and their associates were leaked to the public just a year later. The emails, whose authenticity were disputed by associates of the family, revealed that the family wielded incredible influence and was trying to appoint government ministers and heads of government-owned companies according to their financial benefit.
The family was also involved in other controversies like the infamous ‘Guptagate’ when they landed guests for a member’s wedding in a military airport reserved for foreign heads of state. The family was also responsible for hiring a British PR firm to stoke racial tensions in South Africa to distract from their corruption charges.
The family only grew in notoriety as President Zuma was forced to step down, even getting blacklisted by the US Treasury Department in 2019. The family relocated from South Africa to Dubai, UAE amidst increasing scrutiny.
What is happening to Indians in South Africa now?
South Africa contains one of the largest Indian diasporas, with many being located in the country since colonial times. With the violence in the country reaching a peak, many Indians feel threatened due to the anger against the Gupta family in the populace and the rising levels of inequality. Reports have come in of Indian-owned businesses and stores, in particular, being targeted by rioting crowds.
"The Indian people are being targeted in all areas of Kwazulu Natal and Johannesburg. There are 1.3 million in South Africa, although all are not in danger presently, but it's heading that way. We have been crying out to the South African government to send the South African Defence force to assist. They are not coming through. Our Indian brothers and sisters together with South African police forces cannot cope, they being outnumbered,” said an Indian community leader in South Africa.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar spoke to his South African counterpart in order to ensure the safety of the Indian community in the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the attacks are not racially motivated but that the protests were co-opted by criminal elements.
"What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft," President Ramaphosa said.
South African authorities and leaders have called for calm and peace and to stop the violence targetting Indians in the country. Among them was Misuzulu KaZwelithini, the king of the Zulu.
“Our Indian brothers are our neighbours and we have the second biggest population of Indians in KwaZulu-Natal outside of India and through that, we have had certain people who have come to us to say thank you to the Zulu nation and to the Zulu royal family that you are living with our Indian brothers in peace," PTI quoted him as saying.