A group of students raise their hands in the air to signal that they have come in peace in a protest against raising school fees in October 2015. Photo credit: Myolisi in Wikimedia Commons

Political tensions in South Africa boil over, leads to civil unrest

The already tumultuous political climate of South Africa has been exacerbated by the arrest of former South African President, Jacob Zuma. His incarceration triggered protests, civil unrest and a split between political views among country residents.

Former President Jacob Zuma was placed under arrest in early July after his failure to appear before a state commission of inquiry regarding corruption under his administration.  Currently, he is serving a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court.

His recent arrest sparked protests in Johannesburg and Zuma’s home province, KwaZulu-Natal. Protestors called for his immediate release from prison. In some instances, demonstrations quickly turned into trashing public and private properties, as well as, looting commercial businesses. Health services were disrupted along with COVID-19 vaccination sites were forced to temporarily close. The African Gazette reports that the death toll has risen to 212.

“#SouthAfrica sees the deadliest violence since apartheid ended,” said CBS News Foreign Correspondent, Debora Patta. Consequently, soldiers have been patrolling east Johannesburg according to Voices of America News.

“No life should be lost in my name and the ANC should never be divided in my name. I have therefore come to the decision to resign as president of the Republic with immediate effect,” said  Zuma during his final political address before stepping down.

His decision to resign was persuaded by violence and dissension in the African National Congress as reported by the BBC News. Subsequently, incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa succeeded him. Tensions surged shortly thereafter.

Two sides of the same coin

Jacob Zuma, former president of South Africa and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director, World Bank, Washington DC; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum, at the Opening Plenary on Africa and the New Global Economy at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa, June 10, 2009. Photo credit: Matthew Jordaan on Wikimedia Commons
Copyright World Economic Forum www.weforum.org / Matthew Jordaan [email protected]

Currently, the hashtags, #FreeJacobZuma and #CyrilMustResign are flooding social media, with the stark political differences between South Africans on center stage. Citizens are apprehensive about both candidates due to their less than perfect pasts.

Reports of corruption in the Zuma Administration have come to the surface. As well, BBC News reports that the former president is currently facing 16 counts of racketeering, fraud and money laundering.

Even more, there is suspicion surrounding incumbent President Ramaphosa in regards to the identity of his donors following his 2017 African National Congress presidential campaign. SABC News reports that the Economic Freedom Fighters requested CR17 financial records be released in order to avoid possible corruption that could increase through private funding.

However, President Ramaphosa’s Advocate Wim Trengove SC argued that the full bench found the Public Protector’s investigation into CR17 financial records unlawful. Recently, SABC News tweeted, “The Pretoria High Court has dismissed with costs the application by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to have CR17 bank statements unsealed.”

South African poverty and unemployment

Finally, there are those who believe that part of the current upheaval  is attributed to the high poverty and unemployment rates in the nation. All Africa reports that residents who witnessed unrest in Brakpan, a mining town in the Gauteng province of South Africa, were looters who were hungry and unemployed.

Currently, the unemployment rate is at 32.6 percent, a new record high as reported by Reuters. Plus, for years there has been political division on how to deal with the redistribution of resources. Former African National Congress Youth League President Julius Malema formed the Economic Freedom Fighters to deal with the gross racial inequalities in the country. While South Africa is majority Black, the white minority holds most of the wealth. Another hotbed issue centers the returning land to Black South Africans who were displaced from their ancestral homes by Dutch and English colonizers from the 1600s to the 1900s. However, the land reform is difficult in dismantling the white power structure that still exists in the country in the form of unequal wealth distribution.

Incumbent President Ramaphosa tweeted, “I remain optimistic that the many challenges we are facing, we will overcome them. We will address the security situation, the socio-economic challenges confronting our people and strengthen the capacity of the state.”

Following the protests, there has been a call by South Africans for the government to reinstate the Basic Income Grant to deal with the sharp increase of economic instability due to the global health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.

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