Although episodes of violence in South Africa seem to be on the decline, the toll on Thursday (15), the seventh day of tensions in the main cities of the country, is 117 dead, 2,203 arrested and more than 10,000 soldiers in the streets, including reservists. called to help restore order.
The conflict scenario still persists in Durban, a port city that is one of South Africa’s main import and export centers, in the east of the country. In Johannesburg, the economic capital, the day was marked by traders searching for what was left in malls and streets after the wave of looting.
The acts began last Friday (9), in response to the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma, found guilty of contempt of court for ignoring the convening of a commission to investigate cases of corruption in his government . But political protests quickly escalated, and what we saw in the streets were days of chaos, unchecked authorities and frightened people.
According to acting presidential minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, there have been 26 deaths in Gauteng province, home to Johannesburg, and 91 more in KwaZulu-Natal, the province where Zuma was born. According to her, there were around 5,000 soldiers in the streets as of Wednesday. The number doubled Thursday, with the strengthening of the call for reservists, but it is still less than the 25,000 men promised by the holder of the Defense, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
In a government-led campaign, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor talks about trying to figure out the origin of what has been seen in recent days. “We should be concerned about the nature of the violence that we have seen, the nature of the crime. The South African economy was just starting to recover from the effects of the pandemic, and this will further reverse our economic growth.”
The Durban scenario accumulates evidence that the recent chaos may have shed light on the racial tensions inherited from apartheid, a segregated regime that has been in place in South Africa for nearly 50 years and whose wounds in society no ‘have not yet been completely healed.
In the Phoenix district, where there is a high concentration of South Africans of Indian origin, the authorities have recorded recurring conflicts between this ethnic group and black citizens.
“Horrific scenes are happening on the streets of Phoenix, and the racial direction these riots are taking must be stopped quickly,” Police Minister Bheki Cele said. According to him, at least 20 people have been killed in the neighborhood since last week.
In Soweto, there were about 50 people picking up what was left in a ransacked shopping center: broken glass and empty crates of produce. Theft stores were emptied, as were ATMs. The looting also made food and other essentials scarce, and the closing of gas stations damaged supply and transport lines.
“It’s heartbreaking, everything is gone. It will take months to get back on track,” Ricardo Desousa, director of a butcher’s shop targeted by looting in Soweto, told Reuters news agency. Some employees helped him clean the place, but they worked for free. “They will not be paid. There is no money.”
The destruction scenario has the potential to worsen the poverty which already affects around half of the population. Unemployment in South Africa reached a record high of 32.6% in the first three months of 2021, in part due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Epidemiologically, the figures are no better. The country of nearly 57 million people records, as of Thursday, 2.2 million cases and more than 65,000 deaths from coronaviruses, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Vaccination against the pathogen, which was already proceeding very slowly – 6.74% of the population received at least one dose of the immunizing agent and 2.46% both – was discontinued in places where violence has reached more critical points. Hospitals treating patients with Covid-19 are also running low on oxygen supplies, as most of those supplies have arrived in the country through the port of Durban.
Zuma, one of the leaders in the struggle to end apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), is the most controversial South African president since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994. His dominance over the internal dynamics of the African National Congress (ANC), the party that ruled the country for 27 years, is what kept it in the public arena for so long.
The political influence of the former South African leader, however, has waned since Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy, replaced him as head of the party and then as president of the country. Before he fell, he saw ANC members and thousands of South Africans take to the streets to demand his resignation.
Having survived impeachment proceedings, he came under internal and external pressure and eventually stepped down from the presidency in 2018. Since then he has been charged with corruption offenses committed before and during his tenure in court.