Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 408, 14 July 2021

South Africa: Arrest of Jacob Zuma triggers violence across the country
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 11 July, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on the protesters to calm down, saying "there can never be any justification for such violent destruction and disruptive actions." Meanwhile, military troops have been deployed in Gauteng province and in Zuma's home province of KwaZulu-Natal to tackle the violence.

On 13 July, the Washington Post reported widespread violence and looting. It reported more than 70 people getting killed and widespread looting across South Africa.

On 7 July, South Africa's former president Jacob Zuma handed himself to the police. He is due to serve his 15 months sentence for contempt of court as he failed to attend the enquiry on corruption charges during his presidency. Protests following the arrest are degenerating to larger violence in the country. At least 26 people have been killed and about 800 arrested. 
 
Issues at large
First, arrest and the allegations.  Jacob Zuma was forced out of his office by his own party, the African National Congress, in 2018 over corruption allegations. He has been accused of 18 charges of racketeering, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering. The charges also include the corruption over a multi-billion-dollar arms deal in 1999 and the state capture in 2017. On 26 May, he pleaded not guilty of all the charges saying he is a victim of conspiracies involving his enemies in the African National Congress.
 
Second, the divisions within the ANC. The party today is divided into two factions, one supporting Zuma and the other supporting Ramaphosa. The Zuma faction claims that Ramaphosa is using the court to maintain his leadership in the party. They argue that Zuma is a victim of political witch-hunting by Ramaphosa's allies.  
 
Third, the spread of violence. The ongoing unrest in the country began as a protest against Zuma's arrest but has now broadened to larger violence. Shops and malls have been ransacked, businesses set on fire and major highways blocked. The police say that the criminals and the opportunistic individuals are trying to enrich themselves under the situation. South Africa's consumer goods council warned that the unrest might lead to food shortages as deliveries have been disrupted, banking services and healthcare have also been impacted. 
 
In perspective
First, the arrest of Zuma can be seen as a great achievement of the South African judiciary. It proved the accountability of the court in bringing equality before the law. 
 
Second, but the split within ANC will be a great challenge for the party in regaining the public trust. The victims of the split will be the citizens as the governing party loses its balance. People are insecure with the government under the party in addressing their needs and issues.  
 
Third, the pro-Zuma protests have crossed the line to larger violence. The multiple disturbances, triggered by poor economic conditions and the pandemic, may lead to larger unrest, poverty, unemployment and an increase in deaths.

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