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What’s happening in South Africa? Zuma protests explained

Soldiers from the South African Defense Force (SANDF) patrol

25,000 military troops have been deployed to help with the widespread violence and looting (Picture: EPA)

South Africa has seen a streak of looting and violence, widely regarded as the most serious unrest witnessed in the post-Apartheid era following the arrest of a former president, Jacob Zuma.

The protests began in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal on the evening of July 9 and extended to the province of Gauteng by July 11.

Citizens are at risk of running out of food and Pastor Donny Anderson, who has been protecting the barricades in his local community in Durban, told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s going to take quite long to get back to normal…it’s going to take months because the major food warehouses were not just looted, they were burnt also.’

The country’s military has been deployed to areas in which police are outnumbered, with the government struggling with the scale of the protests.

What is the root of the rioting and why was Jacob Zuma jailed?

Why was Zuma jailed?

Zuma, 79, was sentenced to 15-months imprisonment for defying a court order to give evidence at an inquiry investigating corruption allegations during his time in office from 2009 to 2018.

Zuma was charged with corruption in March 2018, mainly in connection with the South African Arms Deal, known as the Strategic Defence Package worth R30 billion (equal to approx. £2 billion).

Former South African President Jacob Zuma has been imprisoned for 15 months. (Picture: Getty Images)

On June 29, 2021, Zuma was sentenced to his 15 month jail term after failing to appear at the Zondo Commission.

Protests grew when he challenged the sentence at South Africa’s Constitutional Court in a hearing that began in early July. Prior to Zuma handing himself in, supporters amassed at Zuma’s residence to prevent authorities from arresting him. 

The decision to jail Zuma marked the first time a former president has been jailed in a post-apartheid South Africa.

Following his arrest, supporters blockaded roads and resorted to arson, which included burning down buildings.

However, the riots are expected to be a culmination of different factors.

Some suggest political violence, opportunistic looting, ethnic tension and dissatisfaction with poverty and inequality could be contributing factors that have reached boiling point with Zuma’s arrest.

Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambundla, has also come under fire for inciting violence. On social media, she compared President Ramaphosa to apartheid-era leadership and supported the early protesting, using the hashtag ‘RamaphosaMustFall.’

How many people have died in the South Africa protests?

As of July 15, at least 117 people have been confirmed dead and more than 2,000 have been arrested during South Africa’s unrest, Reuters reports.

Frontline photographer documents riots in South Africa

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Hundreds of shops and businesses have been looted and the government says it is acting to prevent food shortages.

What have South Africa’s government said about the protests?

The South African government plans to deploy over 20,000 more troops as the country continues to suffer.

The BBC reports that Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has submitted a request for the deployment of 25,000 soldiers to the two provinces hit by violence – KwaZulu-Natal, where Durban is located, and Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg.

President Ramaphosa has described the violence as unprecedented in the 27 years since the end of the apartheid regime.

Addressing the nation on the weekend of July 10-11, he appealed for calm, saying: ‘What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft.’


MORE : Zuma’s son urges rioters to ‘loot responsibly’ during unrest in South Africa

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