The President of the Republic of South Africa speaking to staff and pupils at Alexandra Park School in North London, 3 March 2010. Photo credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

What the aftermath of Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment means to South Africa and the region

Some see former South African president, Jacob Zuma’s 15-months prison sentence for contempt of court as an injustice defaming a former hero. Others see it as the gradual rebirthing of a nation removed from corruption.

Gaining independence from European colonialism was a celebration for many African countries. Leaders who once struggled for liberation, now have assumed major political seats in their specific governments. However, the new dawn of post-colonial Africa gradually turned to a nightmare when politicians were accused of gambling country wealth for a personal boost. This is the story of former South African president, Jacob Zuma

Once a member of the African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma was previously imprisoned for 10 years, following charges of trying to overthrow the Apartheid government. After Apartheid ended, he served as the deputy president from 1999-2005. During this time, he was accused of corruption. Subsequently, Zuma was dismissed from duties as his financial advisor solicited a bribe. Next, he served as the president from 2009 until 2018; often encountering criminal charges on the basis of corruption and even rape accusations.

When it rains it pours, and floods are expected after the South African Constitutional Court sentenced the Nkandla native for refusing to testify at a corruption investigation on state looting. On July 19, Zuma’s state lawyers applied for a postponement of his trial, a well-known deferment strategy used as a stalling defense. This raises questions on whether the distressingly violent riots should be anticipated to remain. 

The bitter economic setback

A conversation with Bulelani Balabala, the head of Township Entrepreneurs Alliance, depicts an economy of South Africa that has been negatively affected on unbelievable levels. “After the looting, businesses have been negatively affected. Many businesses were still trying to recover the losses from the pandemic, the rioting has left small business owners in an air of despondency. A lock-down economic impact survey recounts that 80 percent of small business owners in the area do not have insurance. With this in mind, many of those whose businesses were destroyed have no means for recovery.” Said Balabala.

He continued by saying that South Africans were looting for hunger and social impact issues, not only for the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma. This was the cry of the people, communicating with their Government that they want change and that they deserve better. These were actions to demonstrate that their rights as South African citizens are not being respected. To summarize, the riots pointed out in an ill-suited way that they are tired.

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Others have stated that it is not right to protest and destroy a nation based on a former president facing accusations in court. “It is unfortunate that civilians went on strike and carried out acts of vandalisation because of Zuma even after he broke the law.” A journalist stated.

The riot has been analysed in various reports as a long-term frustration of the South African people, leading many to believe that the nation should deal with issues on the ground instead of masking them. 

In 2015, the country experienced large scale riots caused by xenophobia. Angry civilians blamed unemployment, poverty and crime on the foreigners. At some point, South Africa was noted as the most xenophobic country in Africa, and one of the top in the world. As if the situation could not get worse, 83 percent of those killed were South Africans

In 2016, statistics indicated that 36 percent of the South African population was living in poverty. Many of them are the Black majority. Over time, the country has also experienced high levels of unemployment with 25 to 30 percent of the workforce unemployed. 

A new dawn for most African Countries, maybe?

All in all, his imprisonment has indicated a silver lining for other African nations experiencing similar circumstances. Based on the cases of corruption involving leaders in misgovernment, this has firmly established that the clock is ticking and no one is above the law.

Some see Zuma’s jailing as a disrespect of a legend who is a founding member of a free South Africa. They refer to his arrest as a result of political conspiracies against Zuma. Yet and still, his arrest is a new, unheard of approach being that judges have allegedly been interconnected with influential political figures in their governments over-time. Hence, making them untouchable.

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The same has been true of other African countries. According to a 2018 report, Kenya was marked as the 9th most corrupt country in the world. This was caused by political leaders who have milked the country dry and initiated tribal wars, whereby hundreds of people are killed. Equally important is Joseph Kabila who was the fourth president of Congo, ruling for nearly 18 years. While Congo is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of minerals, it is one of the poorest as an outcome of war and corruption. 

To show the disparities in wealth, Kabila and his family own wholly or partially, 80 companies in Congo and also abroad. Under his governance, billions of money extracted from the mining industry went missing. To date, no one has been prosecuted. 

To worsen matters, he continually has stolen elections, led a regime based on violence, and drove the country to extreme poverty. Despite all this, he still walks free. Subsequently, there has not been any justice served to the many killed in wars fueled by political leaders in dire thirst for power. 

The bottom line: South Africa has inaugurated a marathon for many African countries involved in similar situations. The accepted tradition that powerful political leaders are above the law is now being questioned. Eyes are being opened to the possibilities of experiencing the expensive taste of democracy.

Nyawira Mithayo

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