South Africa, riots and looting after former president Zuma’s arrest: government recalls reservists for the first time in decades
The government of South Africa intends to deploy 25,000 troops to put an end to the riots that erupted after the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma last week, which has so far killed 72 people. This is ten times the number of troops deployed earlier this week to assist the police, already doubling yesterday from 2,500 to 5,000, and the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994 that the government has recalled reservists.
The protests led to looting and violence that hit several important supply chains and transport hubs, threatening the country’s food and fuel supplies. According to official figures, more than 3,000 people have been arrested so far.
Zuma, president from 2009 to 2018, surrendered himself to the authorities last week after being sentenced on June 29 to 15 months in prison by the country’s Constitutional Court. Zuma’s arrest was initially seen as a success for the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa, the successor to the 79-year-old former apartheid fighter. In the days following his arrest, violent protests broke out, mostly in his native province of KwaZulu-Natal, where the former president is still popular, and in Gauteng, where Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria are located.
In yesterday alone, 208 incidents of looting and vandalism were recorded, while more than 200 shopping centers have so far been damaged or looted.
In a meeting with the leaders of political parties, Ramaphosa said that due to the unrest in some parts of the country, basic necessities could soon be scarce. In addition to shops and businesses, the protests hit factories, warehouses and blocked traffic on the highways connecting the country’s main economic centers, as well as leading to the closure of the country’s largest refinery.
The spiral of violence has prompted several citizens to take up arms and form vigilante groups in many of the most affected areas, in several cases opening fire on suspected attackers. On Monday, July 12, the government ordered 2,500 soldiers to be deployed to contain the unrest, a number that doubled in just two days. Yesterday, on the same day the South African president decided to call 5,000 troops, Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced in parliament that she had forwarded a request to Ramaphosa to deploy 25,000 troops, calling 12,000 reservists.
According to some analysts, the unrest can be attributed in part to rivalries within the party that has ruled the country since the end of apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC). Zuma, convicted of refusing to appear before the commission of inquiry investigating alleged corruption cases that occurred during his presidency, belongs to a faction considered adverse to the more moderate one led by Ramaphosa.
The violence has put even more pressure on the country’s hospital system most affected in Africa by the new coronavirus pandemic, in some cases preventing health personnel from reaching hospitals.
South Africa is currently experiencing its third wave of contagion, setting new records in terms of cases and deaths, while only 2.5 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has embarrassed millions of South Africans, pushing the youth unemployment rate to 46 percent and that of the entire workforce to 33 percent.