Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa
Andre Meldrum, Associated Press
South Africa has been rocked by the worst violence since the nation achieved democracy in 1994. Here is a closer look at the unrest.
What triggered the violence? The unrest began on July 8 when former President Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. Supporters in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal set up roadblocks on major highways and burned about 20 trucks. The protests closed the N3 and N2 highways, which link the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richard’s Bay to the industrial hub of Johannesburg and to Cape Town.
The unrest spread within KwaZulu-Natal, where shopping malls and centers were ransacked by mobs that took food, electronics, clothes and liquor. Attacks on retail centers also spread inland to Gauteng province, to Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, and to Pretoria, the capital. In Durban and Pietermaritzburg, crowds attacked warehouses for major retailers and factories, which were set alight. Several burned until their roofs collapsed. The unrest lasted for a week until 25,000 army troops were deployed.
At least 215 people died in the unrest, and more than 2,500 were arrested on charges including theft and vandalism, according to government figures updated Monday.
South Africa’s economy may sustain longer-term damage if domestic and international investors view the unrest as a sign that the country is not a safe destination for their capital. South Africa’s economy was already in recession, and the instability is expected to cause the economy to contract even further.
The hardest hit will be South Africa’s poor, many of whom will not be able to buy food at competitive prices at the township shopping centers that have been closed or burned. People receiving monthly government grants, especially the elderly, will not be able to get them at centers that have been closed.
What caused the deaths? Police and government officials say many of the deaths were caused when people were crushed in stampedes during the chaotic ransacking of shops. At least 20 deaths occurred in the Phoenix area of KwaZulu-Natal, where residents were protecting their neighborhood from suspected intruders, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele. It is not known how many deaths were caused by police shooting at rioters.
After Zuma entered prison, numerous posts on social media encouraged protests, including attacks on highways and on retail centers. Six people have been arrested on charges of inciting violence, the government announced Monday without disclosing their identities. One of those arrested has been released on bail. Five are still in custody. “The unrest was orchestrated, instigated and planned ... It almost brought our country to its knees,” said acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has also stated that the violence was planned. The police have said they have discovered large caches of ammunition.
The extent of the rioting exposed South Africa’s underlying economic problems, including high rates of unemployment and poverty. Unemployment is more than 32%, and it is above 64% for those under the age of 35, according to South African government statistics. More than half of the country’s 60 million people live in poverty, and more than 20% are food insecure. The country is one of the most unequal in the world, and that inequality has increased since apartheid ended in 1994, according to the World Bank.
What will maintain stability in South Africa? The deployment of 25,000 army troops to assist police has succeeded in establishing an uneasy calm over the country. The highways have reopened, and no violent incidents were reported on Monday. Volunteer groups are helping to clean up trashed retail centers. It was not clear how long the military would be needed on the streets.
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