At least six people have died and 200 have been arrested in protests and the wave of violence linked to the arrest of former South African President Jacob Zuma. On Monday (12), the country’s military announced it was sending troops to the streets of two of the main provinces to help local security forces contain the escalation.
Over the weekend, thousands of people took to the streets in support of Zuma, mostly concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal province, where the former president was born.
Local broadcasters showed footage of a fire at a shopping center in Pietermaritzburgo and said a highway to the city had been closed in an attempt to contain the violence.
The South African government intelligence agency issued a statement in which it said it had stepped up the deployment of agents to all areas affected by violent protests, property damage and looting of shops in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the province which is home to the country’s capital. country, Johannesburg.
According to the agency’s report, four bodies were found in Gauteng, and at least two showed signs of gunshot wounds. Two other deaths occurred in KwaZulu-Natal. The six deaths are under investigation.
The protests escalated over the weekend. On Sunday (11), groups marched through the streets of Johannesburg with clubs, golf clubs and pieces of wood. Authorities say some of the protesters smashed windows and ransacked liquor stores – the sale of alcohol is banned in the country due to restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Similar acts were also recorded on Saturday evening (10) in cities like Alexandra, Jeppestown and Durban. For a spokesman for the KwaZulu-Natal police, the looting indicates that there are “many criminals or opportunistic individuals who are trying to get rich during this period”, using the social unrest as a pretext to steal and make money. wrong.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – who was Zuma’s deputy – said on Sunday that there was no justification for the violence in recent days and that the acts were hampering efforts to rebuild the country’s economy amid of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Zuma, 79, surrendered to authorities last week after being sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court – he did not attend hearings called by a commission investigating corruption charges against his government.
Zuma’s defense began on Monday to present its response to the court ruling. In a virtual hearing, a lawyer for the former president asked the court to withdraw the prison sentence based on a rule that judgments can be reviewed if they are rendered in the person’s absence concerned or if they contain an error. For lawyers, however, the chances of success for this argument are slim.
Last Friday, Zuma’s lawyers had already suffered a setback with the rejection of a request to quash the conviction based on the alleged fragile health of the former president and the risk of contamination by the coronavirus.
The President of the Supreme Court of Pietermaritzburg, however, rejected the request and said that “Mr. Zuma’s concerns about his health are not supported by any evidence”.
Zuma was removed from the presidency in 2018, in an action orchestrated by allies of Ramaphosa, his successor. The former president has faced legal action and charges of corruption crimes committed before and during his tenure.
One concerns the so-called “Zondo Commission”, a case in which corruption allegations involving three Indian tycoons – brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta – are being investigated. Zuma denies any wrongdoing, but has so far not cooperated with investigations.
The Gupta brothers, who also deny the allegations, left South Africa after the former president was ousted. In another case, he faces 16 counts of fraud, corruption and organized crime related to the purchase of military equipment from five European companies in 1999, while he was a deputy.
Zuma is alleged to have pocketed more than four million rand (around R $ 1.4 million at the current rate) in bribes paid by French company Thales, one of the groups that won a contract with the South African government valued in more than 3.3 billion US dollars (16.3 billion reais).