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2021 South African unrest

2021 South African unrest
Date9 July 2021 – present
(6 days) (UTC+2)
Location
Mostly in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with spillovers into Mpumalanga
Caused by
Goals
Methods
StatusOngoing
Parties to the civil conflict

Political parties

Public

Lead figures
Decentralised Cyril Ramaphosa
Casualties
Death(s)72[10]
Arrested1,234[10]

The 2021 South African unrest is a series of ongoing riots and protests in the South African provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that began in Kwazulu-Natal on the evening of Friday, 9 July 2021.[18] The unrest then spread to Gauteng on the evening of 11 July 2021.[19][20] The riots began as a protest following the arrest and incarceration of former South African president Jacob Zuma, who was taken into custody after declining to testify at the Zondo Commission, an inquiry into allegations of corruption during his term as president from 2009 to 2018. The Constitutional Court reserved judgement on Zuma's application to rescind his sentence on 12 July 2021.[21][22][23] The riots began as protests by his supporters in KwaZulu-Natal before escalating to widespread looting and violence throughout KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.[24] As of 13 July, 72 people have died in the unrest, and 1,234 have been arrested.[10]

Background

Economy

More than half of South Africa's population lives in poverty, with an unemployment rate of 32%. The economic downturn brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the crisis.[25]

Jacob Zuma's legal battle

Former South African president Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption in March 2018, mainly in connection with a R30 billion arms deal.[26] The legal battle has continued from then, during which Zuma's legal team appealed for more time to prepare and trying get the charged dismissed. During the trial proceedings Zuma has been repeatedly absent from the court citing medical reasons and lack of funds.[27] The case has proceeded into the Constitutional Court.[28]

Arrest of Jacob Zuma

On 29 June 2021, former president Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court, after he refused to appear at a commission his government appointed to investigate alleged corruption during his nine years in office.[29] He was given until the end of 4 July to hand himself in, after which the South African Police Service would be obliged to arrest him. However on 3 July, the court agreed on to hear his application on 12 July.[30]

Supporters of Jacob Zuma gathered outside his Nkandla homestead on 13 July 2021.[31]

If Zuma refused to surrender by 4 July, the police were given till 7 July to arrest him.[32] Supporters had gathered near his home with weapons to stop his arrest,[33] but he handed himself over to the police on 7 July,[34][35] and was jailed at the Estcourt Correctional Centre.[33]

On 8 July 2021, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola announced that Zuma will be eligible for parole once he has served a quarter of his 15-month sentence.[36]

Zuma challenged his detention on 9 July in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on grounds of health, but it was rejected.[37] His arrest led to violent protests by his supporters, who dubbed their campaign as "Free Jacob Zuma and shut down KZN", in the KwaZulu-Natal province.[38]

Following Zuma's arrest, widespread protesting began nationwide, with his supporters calling for his release.[1]

Civil disorder

Riots and looting

On 9 July 2021, the same day KwaZulu-Natal's high court upheld his conviction and prison sentence, the unrest began.[18][39] Widespread reports of public violence, burglary, malicious damage to property was reported in parts of KwaZulu-Natal, with at least 28 people being arrested and a highway being blocked.[39] The riots continued on the evening of Sunday, 11 July 2021, when multiple news sources indicated reports of gunshots and explosions heard at local malls and residential areas.[40] The violence quickly escalated, and by the morning of Monday, 12 July 2021, multiple companies and malls were forced to close following widespread looting and violence.[41] As of 13 July, 72 people have died due to the unrest, and 1,234 have been arrested.[10]

Incitement

Jacob Zuma's daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, is among those who have encouraged the looting and violence in order to secure the release of her father.[42] According to State Security Minister, Ayando Dlodlo, they are investigating information as to whether senior former agents in the intelligence agency and senior ANC members aligned to former president Jacob Zuma are responsible for igniting the recent violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.[43] Police Minister Bheki Cele added that the security cluster is looking at ten to twelve people who were fueling the riots through social media.[44]

A scene from the Ridge Shopping Centre in Shallcross, Chatsworth, which was looted the night of Sunday, 11 July 2021.[45]

Thulani Dlomo, the former head of the State Security Agency special operations unit and a loyal supporter of Zuma, is also reported to be under investigation for inciting unrest.[46]

State response

Initially, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was deployed in the Nkandla district to control the number of protests in the area.[47][48]

Over the weekend, as the South African Police Service (SAPS) battled to contain the large-scale looting and damage to infrastructure.[49] Pressure mounted on government to deploy the army.[50]

On the morning of Monday, 12 July 2021, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, as part of Operation Prosper.[51][52][53]

On 12 July 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the riots, saying the acts of public violence has been "rarely seen" in democratic South Africa. Ramaphosa referred to the riots as opportunistic acts of violence, citing the lack of grievance, nor any political cause, that can justify the destruction by the protestors. He highlighted the Constitution of South Africa, which guarantees the rights of everyone to express themselves, but stated that the victims of the violence unfolding are the workers, truck drivers, business owners, the parents of those who have lost their lives have all done nothing wrong. He went on to discuss the impact of the riots on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, stating that the rollout has been drastically disrupted after prior setbacks. He also noted how the economy of the country would face further challenges due to food and medication insecurity resulting from the riots. The deployment of SANDF to assist with ending the unrest was also discussed.[54]

The same day, The South African Constitutional Court reserved its previous judgement and rejected Zuma's bid to rescind his prison sentence.[55] As a result of the decision, Zuma is required to remain in prison.[23]

National responses

Opposition party, the Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen announced that the party would be laying criminal charges against Jacob Zuma’s children, Duduzane Zuma and Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, and Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema following social media comments inciting violence and looting.[56] ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba announced a separate, class action lawsuit to be laid against the government and the ANC, for failing to take swift action against the riots and looting. Mashaba stated that "we believe that there is more than sufficient jurisprudence that merits this a strong test case, and assists us in holding the government to account for its willful failure to ensure proper law enforcement and the protection of lives, livelihoods and property".[57]

International responses

On 13 July 2021, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki released a press statement condemning the violence in South Africa. It also warned that internal disorder may threaten the stability of the region.[58] The United Nations in South Africa also condemned the violence and expressed support for the government.[59]

Effects

Negative impacts on logistical networks

Protest effects on road networks
Legend:
  Road closure
  Road protest
  Protest action

The container ports of Richardsbay and Durban have ceased operations. Containers in the port of Durban have been plundered. After several attacks on trucks, the N3 Highway, which links port Durban with Johannesburg, was closed on July 10.[60]

Multiple logistics and fuel companies declared forced temporary closure of their operations in KZN, citing fears of continued looting, highjackings's, truck burnings, and social unrest that could further impact business operations, adding to more costs sustained from the looting and damage to property.[61][62]

Food shortages

On 12 July, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa warned that widespread looting, destruction and closures would lead to food shortages.[63]

By 14 July, damage to transport infrastructure had caused food shortages, leading to queues outside grocery stores, and prevented harvesting and distribution of fresh produce.[64]

Economic losses

The South African rand weakened as much as 2% on 12 July, the most since February 25.[65] Based on a preliminary analysis on 13 July, the SA Special Risks Insurance Association estimated that total losses due to damage and looting may run into "billions of rand".[66] In Durban, during a 14 July media briefing, the mayor of eThekwini announced that up to 45 000 businesses were affected with 129 000 jobs at stake and R16 billion in damages to stock, property, and equipment.[67]

Destruction of property

By Monday afternoon on 12 July, more than 200 shopping centres had been looted, with several of them in Soweto having been ransacked.[68] On 14 July, the SA Pharmacy Council noted that 90 pharmacies were completely destroyed with the bulk of those in KwaZulu-Natal being hit the hardest.[69] ICASA announced that 113 network towers had been vandalized, resulting in the disruption of cellular networks.[70]

COVID-19 vaccine rollout crisis

Following the impact of the looting and destruction to property, multiple COVID-19 vaccine rollout sites were closed to prevent looting and property destruction. These precautions slowed the vaccination roll-out while the country was still battling its third wave of infection.[16][17] The SA Pharmacy Council's Vincent Tlala said that COVID-19 vaccines were among the looted items from pharmacies that were affected.[69]

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