Why the arrest of former South African President Zuma sparked protests, violence, and looting

A group of men shout as they try to enter a shopping mall in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg, South Africa on July 14.
A group of men shout as they try to enter a shopping mall in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg, South Africa on July 14.

  • Years of turmoil heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic boiled over in South Africa with the imprisonment of ex-president Jacob Zuma.
  • South Africa was “volatile” even before Zuma turned himself over to police, a political scientist told Insider.
  • Violent unrest and looting has rocked South Africa since Zuma’s imprisonment last week.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Years of social and economic turmoil heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic boiled over in South Africa with the imprisonment of ex-president Jacob Zuma, leading to the deadly unrest rocking the country, a political scientist told Insider Wednesday.

South Africa was “volatile” even before Zuma – who was president from 2009 to 2018 – turned himself over to police last week to serve a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court, said Liv Tørres, the director of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.

“What has been growing over years and years has been both an increasing level of tension and anger,” explained Tørres. “Anger among the poor that the promises they were given during the transition to democracy about delivery of jobs and future hopes have not been kept, basically.”

Approximately half of the adult population in South Africa is living below the poverty line, Tørres noted, adding that in parts of South Africa, “a big majority of African youth have got no prospects at all of getting jobs.”

“These frustrations and tensions have been growing over at least the last 10 years,” Tørres said.

The imprisonment of Zuma, who refused to cooperate with a South African inquiry into corruption, is “basically the last thing that ignites a lot of anger and frustration around the country,” she said.

“Poverty, high crime, high inequality, a feeling broken of promises – add this on top of COVID where hundreds of thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and their jobs, they don’t see any future,” Tørres said.

She added, “So it was volatile in the first place before Zuma’s prison sentence was on the agenda.”

Since the imprisonment of Zuma, there have been looting and violent protests in the streets resulting in the deaths of more than 70 people.

A factory burns in the background while empty boxes litter the foreground from looted goods being removed, on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa.
A factory burns on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa amid looting and protests in the country.

The unrest – which Tørres noted “is definitely the worst violence we have seen since before the end of apartheid” in the 1990s – has been centered around the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province.

Many of the demonstrators are supporters of Zuma.

“They are dedicated to him,” Tørres said, explaining that Zuma “has a history of being a leader in the liberation struggle.”

“He was an exile, he was jailed, he’s paid a huge price for freedom for South Africans, so that’s part of the reason why people are mobilizing now,” said Tørres.

A lot of Zuma’s supporters, she said, “also believe this is a political setup and that he’s not really corrupt.”

People loot an area near a burning warehouse in Durban, South Africa
People loot an area near a burning warehouse in Durban, South Africa.

Tørres said she believes that some wreaking havoc in South Africa are only taking advantage of the chaotic situation.

The demonstrations have been joined by “criminal groups, angry youth, and things are spinning out of control,” said Tørres.

However, the unrest, Tørres said, was inevitable.

“I do think it was to be expected at some stage,” she said. “People had been in desperate circumstances and just more and more angry, so it had to blow up at some stage.”

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South African authorities are ‘monitoring all social media’ as riots and looting grip the country

People loot an area near a burning warehouse in Durban, South Africa
People loot an area near a burning warehouse in Durban, South Africa

  • The South African minister of police said that authorities were monitoring social-media platforms in the country.
  • “We are engaging the different platforms to track and trace the origins of inflammatory posts and messages inciting violence,” he said.
  • Violence and protests erupted in the country last week when former President Jacob Zuma was arrested.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The South African minister of police said Tuesday that authorities in the country were monitoring social-media platforms to suss out individuals inciting violence online amid ongoing chaos in the country.

“We also issue a stern warning to those circulating inflammatory messages on social media platforms which are aimed at inciting violence and disregard of the law,” said Bheki Cele, the South African minister of police, according to a copy of his speech posted by the local outlet Times Live.

Protests and later violence and looting erupted last week in South Africa after former President Jacob Zuma was arrested after he failed to show up to proceedings in a corruption inquiry, according to NBC News. So far, more than 70 people have died in the violence.

Many of the deaths have occured when people were trampled to death during the looting of businesses when police fired grenades and shot rubber bullets into crowds, the Associated Press reported.

So far, more than 1,200 people have been arrested in violent demonstrations, according to the AP. The violence has also destroyed hundreds of businesses and caused an oil refinery to temporarily shut down, NBC News reported.

“Those who engage in such acts will be liable for criminal offense and can receive a fine or be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years,” Cele said, citing a law known as The Cybersecurity Act, which he said prohibits people in South Africa from using the internet to incite violence or encourage the destruction of private property.

“As the cluster, we are monitoring all social media platforms and we are tracking those who are sharing false information and calling for civil disobedience,” Cele said.

“We are engaging the different platforms to track and trace the origins of inflammatory posts and messages inciting violence and have requested these be taken down with immediate effect,” he added.

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South Africa’s former president was sentenced to 15 months in prison for refusing to show up to a corruption inquiry into him

FILE PHOTO: Former South African President Jacob Zuma addresses supporters in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo
Jacob Zuma in 2019.

  • South Africa’s former president has been given to 15 months in prison over contempt of court.
  • Jacob Zuma did not show to answer questions from an anti-corruption probe looking at his presidency.
  • He was ordered to present himself at a police station within five days.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

South Africa’s former president has been sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Jacob Zuma was sentenced by the country’s top court on Tuesday for contempt of court after he failed to show up at an anti-corruption commission to answer questions about his presidency.

“It is declared that Mr. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court,” Constitutional Court judge Sisi Khampepe said, according to Agence France-Presse.

“No person is above the law.”

He has been ordered to present himself to police within five days, AFP reported.

Zuma was South Africa’s President between 2009 to 2018. He resigned after his political party, the African National Congress, decided to remove him.
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