The streets of South Africa are seeing the worst violence they have in nearly two decades. More than 45 individuals have been killed while the South African military has been called in to tackle the situation. Countless shops and buildings have been shuttered while many others have been ransacked and looted.
Here is all you need to know about the current violence in South Africa
Why did it start?
The protests erupted after Jacob Zuma, the former President of South Africa turned himself to the police for a 15-month long jail stint. Zuma had led the nation for 9-years between 2009 to 2018.
The former president had to serve a jail sentence due to contempt of court. Zuma had refused to appear before a panel investigating corruption, a panel that he himself had established, only testifying once before becoming a recalcitrant witness. The Constitutional Court of South Africa, the apex court of the country, sentenced Zuma to 15-months in prison for refusing to appear before the inquiry panel and contempt of court on June 29.
"The Constitutional Court can do nothing but conclude that Mr Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court," judge Sisi Khampepe said.
The panel was investigating charges of graft against Zuma and his connection with the powerful Gupta family, who had emigrated to South Africa from India. Zuma is additionally facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering.
Zuma had been a popular yet controversial figure facing serious charges such as rape, wherein he was acquitted, during his presidency.
Zuma was not immediately arrested and tried to delay his arrest but on July 8, the former president and Apartheid activist turned himself in. His loyal supporters, especially from his home province of KwaZulu-Natal threatened to form human barricades to stop the police from arresting him,
But even as the arrest itself was not stopped, Zuma supporters took to the street to protest in large numbers. Zuma had maintained that the inquiry and now the arrest is a politically motivated witch hunt. Many of his supporters are pointing fingers at the current president Cyril Ramaphosa, who had succeeded Zuma.
However, the protests soon expanded from the arrest of the former president to widespread agitation against poverty levels and record levels of unemployment. The widespread agitation again spilled over to rioting as South African authorities claimed that the looting and ransacking of shops and buildings was a result of criminal elements within the protests commandeering them.
"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.
What is the current situation?
On July 12, Zuma appealed against his arrest and the courts reserved the judgement for an unspecified date. Flashpoint areas included KwaZulu-Natal, including the city of Durban, and Gauteng, which included South Africa’s largest city — Johannesburg.
South African military has deployed troops to tackle the riot as the police forces are strained.
But the riots are also affecting the South African economy, which was only just starting to come out of the after-effects of the pandemic induced slow down. Rioting has closed down one of the most important trade routes, not only in the country but the entire continent.
The vaccination program in the country has also taken a big hit, with many centres being closed down in the rioting areas.
(Edited by : Aditi Gautam)
First Published: IST