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Civil unrest transpires in South Africa, leaves over 200 dead

Amid a record-breaking number of Covid-19 cases and the arrest of President Jacob Zuma, looting and rioting plague South Africa’s most populous provinces. 

7 mins read

Fires rage violently across the Marketplace. Many slip and fall on shards of glass from spilled milk, liquor, yogurt and cleaning liquids. You’ve never seen anything like this before. Your neighbors rush against the law enforcement as sounds of rubber bullets and tear gas whiz by you. Cries echo across the street. You’ve never seen anything like this before. Your neighbors lay lifeless on the pavement. 

You’ve never seen anything like this before.

“We understand that those unemployed have inadequate food. We understand that the situation has been made worse by the pandemic,” Premier David Makhura said on the state South African Broadcasting Corp. “But this looting is undermining our businesses here (in Soweto). It is undermining our economy, our community. It is undermining everything.”

As Makhura spoke with such emotion, gunfire could be heard in the background. Police were shown trying to bring order to the Ndofaya shopping mall, where 10 people were crushed to death in a looting stampede.

The riots in South Africa earlier this month started when former President Zuma was placed under arrest.

A government-mandated commission started investigating his activities as president from 2009-2018. On July 7, Zuma handed himself to the court to serve a 15-month prison sentence.

Zuma has evaded prosecution for almost a decade, saying that the accusations are merely a “political witch hunt.”

A multi-billion dollar arms deal is another controversial topic for the former South African President. In the 1990s, the amount of money they used in this specific deal was enough to solve many domestic issues in South Africa, upsetting millions of locals who lived in poverty.

Altogether, he is still facing 16 counts of racketeering, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

On July 19, Zuma’s lawyer, Dali Mpofu, argued in a virtual meeting with the court that the trial should be postponed until Zuma can appear in court physically rather than in a digital fashion.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma. (AFP)
Former South African President Jacob Zuma. Courtesy of the Agence France-Presse

Zuma’s arrest triggered rioting across his home province of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, where economic capital Johannesburg and the political capital Pretoria are located. 

Sources say the riots led to the deaths of 215 persons and the arrests of more than 2,500 individuals.

A ghastly amount of people have lost their only source of resources to the looting, and several others have risen from the ashes of their local supermarkets with stolen items in hand.

In the heat of this insurrection, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed his belief that the riots were pre-planned and an assault on democracy.

“It is quite clear that all these incidents of unrest and looting were instigated — there were people who planned it and co-ordinated it,” Ramaphosa said on a visit to KwaZulu-Natal.

So far, an estimated £720m ($1bn) worth of stock was looted during the week-long unrest. 

“We are going after them,” Ramaphosa added.

These riots, as Ramaphosa proclaimed, have been in the makings for years now. Around 50 percent of the workforce is unemployed — 76 percent for young citizens — and the country has one of the highest inequality rates in the world, as the wealthy live in the same neighborhood as the poor. 

However, on July 18th, the Nelson Mandela International holiday sparked a sense of hope in the citizens of South Africa, as several of them started to post pictures of themselves distributing food and cleaning the wreckage left by some of the riots.

“The one positive thing I can say is that this incident has united us as never before,” Ramaphosa declared.

On July 19 — Nelson Mandella’s birthday — Ramaphosa started involving himself in the clean-up of the riots in the Gauteng Province, once home to Mandela.

“On this Mandela Day, we join all South Africans who have been engaged in cleanup and rebuilding activities in Gauteng and KZN following the devastation caused by the public violence and looting that took place. We say thank you for defending our democracy,” Rampahosa tweeted.

Sources say 25,000 soldiers will deploy by the end of the weekend. 


‘26,000 new cases overnight’
COVID-19 and South Africa

Photo by: GCIS / Government ZA / CC BY-ND

Earlier this month, records were broken in South Africa when a whopping 26,000 new cases swept the nation. More than 13,000 Covid-19 patients are currently in South African hospitals trying to fight the deadly disease. The daily count of cases jumped from 2,000 to 26,000 overnight, in a single day. Overall, the country’s overall total of 2 million cases takes up approximately more than 30 percent of all Covid-19 cases in the continent.

Last week, Ramaphosa heavily enforced and increased quarantine restrictions, as extending the nighttime curfew, stopping travel and closing schools became an absolute must for the current South African president.

“We have overcome two decisive waves but now we have a new hill to climb, a great challenge, a massive resurgence of infections … a devastating wave,” Ramaphosa said, speaking on national television on Sunday night.

The following restrictions will remain in place:

  • All social, religious and political gatherings remain prohibited;
  • Schools will remain closed until 26 July;
  • The sale of alcohol remains prohibited.

It comes to no surprise that a deadly infection and the arrest of a former president would drive people to looting and rioting, especially in the world’s current state. However, in a turn of events, the South African people are finding hope in the small crevices of prosperity by tweeting on social media, using the hashtag #SouthAfricaBurning.

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