In a scene that could well be that of Donald Trump in a few years, Jacob Zuma was put in jail Wednesday, and the days and weekend that followed exploded in violence. The South African military has now taken to the streets to contain the fighting especially in Johannesburg and Durban. Six protestors are confirmed dead and many more assumed hurt.
The curfew from 9 p.m. – 4 a.m. put in place as a result of Covid has not dampened the fighting, and most Covid testing and vaccinations sites closed Monday because of the unrest.
The Rand fell 2% and some financial markets closed. “Businesses in the affected areas have shut down, with essential services like banking operations, healthcare and power maintenance also impacted,” BusinessTech reported. The country’s major grocery stores like Pick ‘n Pay have closed after widespread looting.
“In Umbilo [one of Durban’s central suburbs],” according to the Daily Maverick, “running gunfire could be heard at least 3km from hotspots, as the perpetrators looted liquor outlets and shops, shot at and stoned police and set fire to stores and malls.”
Zuma – South Africa’s Donald Trump and former president of South Africa – lost his last two legal battles last week when the country’s Supreme and Constitutional courts denied his string of petitions and found him in contempt for refusing to appear at one of the hearings.
He was ordered to surrender to authorities to serve the 15-month contempt sentence last Wednesday, but supporters surrounded his rural residence in KwaZulu Natal blocking journalists and others from approaching him.
In a speech to supporters he thanked them for their wall of security. Many were armed.
But negotiators from the country’s flagship political party, the ANC — of which Zuma technically is still a leader — met with him and he left his residence in the middle of the night in a caravan of black limousines. By Sunday he was in jail and the protests exploded.
As with America’s Republican Party on January 6th, the ANC has called for the protesting to stop. The current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, remains at the head of the ANC. The problem – as with the GOP – is that once the violence ebbs and the mechanics of law in the court begin, the ANC and many of its top leaders begin tacitly supporting Zuma, for fear of losing their base.
Zuma, likely as Trump will, faces countless indictments for a range of crimes committed while serving in government including his seven-year tenure as president. Indictments are also outstanding against his close business associates and family members.
None, however, have been finally adjudicated even though he was ousted from office more than two years ago. Like Trump he employs endless legal maneuvers to stall, move and otherwise disrupt proceedings. His lawyers of late have claimed that he was sick as the excuse for not appearing in court.
Finally the Supreme Court had had it and cited him with contempt and ordered his arrest.
Zuma, like Trump, commands extraordinary loyalty from about a quarter to a third of South Africa’s population who view his reckless and cavalier disrespect of law and political custom as liberating.
The recent increase in Covid restrictions as a result of the government’s misfortunes and mismanagement with regard to its vaccination programs has certainly exacerbated the situation.
Is this civil war?
No, I don’t think so, but I do think it will be prolonged. As detached from the issues that protestors feel on the ground right now, only as the country’s vaccination rollout is able to proceed more quickly do I think this tinderbox will wane.
The government has to show results or Zuma’s mantra of institutionalized corruption and illegality will gain new purchase among the depressed and dispossessed.