South Africa Deploys Army to Quell Unrest Linked to Zuma Jailing

By Reuters
July 12, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

JOHANNESBURG—South Africa deployed soldiers on July 12 to quell the violence that erupted in the wake of former president Jacob Zuma’s jailing, after days of riots left at least six people dead.

Police said that disturbances had intensified, and 219 people were arrested as the controversial ex-leader challenged his 15-month prison term in the country’s top court.

Smoke from burning buildings swirled in the air as items from burgled shops lay strewn by the side of the road in Pietermaritzburg in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

The sporadic pro-Zuma protests that broke out when he handed himself over last week have quickly escalated into looting and arson, mainly in KZN, but also in Gauteng, the province in which Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, is located.

Opportunistic criminals appear to be taking advantage of the anger some feel over Zuma’s incarceration to steal and cause destruction, police said.

protesters in South Africa
Stick-wielding protesters march through the streets in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 11, 2021. (Sumaya Hisham/Reuters)

A statement from the military noted that “pre-deployment processes had started,” following a request for assistance from a government intelligence body. But a Reuters cameraman in Pietermaritzburg said he saw armed soldiers already in the streets.

The rand, South Africa’s currency, dropped sharply and was trading down 1.5 percent against the U.S. dollar at 6:30 p.m. local time.

President Cyril Ramaphosa would address the nation about the violence at 6 p.m. GMT, his office said.

Any confrontation with soldiers risks fuelling claims by Zuma and his supporters that they’re victims of a politically motivated clampdown by his successor, Ramaphosa.

Zuma, 79, was sentenced late last month for defying a constitutional court order to give evidence at an inquiry investigating high-level corruption during his nine years in office, which came to an end in 2018.

The decision to jail him resulted from legal proceedings seen as a test of post-apartheid South Africa’s ability to enforce the rule of law, including against powerful politicians.

In a virtual hearing on July 12, Zuma’s counsel asked the constitutional court to rescind his jail term, citing a rule that judgments can be reconsidered if made in the absence of the affected person or containing a patent error. But legal experts say Zuma’s chances of success are slim.

Brazen Theft

Footage shot by Reuters in the Katlehong township in Gauteng showed police firing rubber bullets at looters to disperse them.

At the Jabulani Mall in Soweto, looters carrying armfuls of stolen goods brazenly walked past TV cameras.

Liquor stores were among those affected, as the sale of alcohol is currently banned under COVID-19 restrictions designed to ease pressure on hospitals, as were shops of companies like pharmacy group Clicks and food retailers Pick n Pay and Shoprite.

As of morning on July 12, the bodies of four people had been found—at least two with gunshot wounds—in Gauteng, intelligence structure NatJOINTS said. Two deaths had occurred in KZN. All six were being investigated.

Ramaphosa said on July 11 there was no justification for violence and that it was damaging efforts to rebuild the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governing African National Congress (ANC) said on July 12 that the poor would bear the brunt of the destruction, as critical public services had been disrupted and several small businesses had been destroyed.

A supermarket burns
A supermarket burns as protests continue in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on July 12, 2021. (Rogan Ward/Reuters)

The movement of freight out of Durban Port’s container terminal was disrupted, while a logistics executive who asked not to be named said he had taken all 300 of his trucks transporting metals, such as copper and cobalt, off the roads. The mining industry body the Minerals Council said that some shipments out of the Richards Bay port had been delayed.

Zuma’s imprisonment marks a significant fall from stature for a leading figure in the ANC.

He was once jailed by South Africa’s pre-1994 white-minority rulers for his efforts to make all citizens equal before the law, but for many, his reputation is now tarnished after a string of sleaze and graft scandals.

The corruption inquiry that Zuma has refused to cooperate with is examining allegations that he allowed three Indian-born businessmen, Atul, Ajay, and Rajesh Gupta, to plunder state resources and peddle influence over government policy. He and the Gupta brothers, who fled the country after Zuma’s ouster, deny wrongdoing.

Zuma also faces a corruption case relating to a $2 billion arms deal in 1999, when he was deputy president. He also denies the charges in that case.

By Tim Cocks and Alexander Winning