The World Today for July 28, 2021



Sparking Tinder

The BBC video of a woman throwing her baby out of a burning building illustrates the violence and suffering that has racked South Africa in recent weeks. The baby and mother survived the fire, which looters lit amid widespread civil unrest.

The violence erupted in early July after former President Jacob Zuma began a 15-month prison term for contempt of court, the Associated Press explained. His supporters in KwaZulu-Natal, where he is from, erected roadblocks and burned trucks in protest. More than 300 people died, according to Agence France-Presse. Police arrested more than 2,500 people on theft and vandalism charges.

The riots were the worst since the end of South Africa’s racist, segregationist Apartheid regime in 1994. Private citizens took up arms to defend their business and critical infrastructure, Bloomberg reported. Protesters destroyed 100 mobile phone towers, prompting the South African telecommunications regulator to issue a public call for citizens to guard facilities.

Zuma was convicted on corruption charges. The scandals plaguing him include $20 million in security upgrades for his private compound. A court recently granted his request for a delay in a corruption trial involving kickbacks in a $2 billion arms deal, Reuters reported. He also faces corruption, fraud and money laundering charges.

Regardless, it’s hard to tell if the riots and looting were unrest or an insurrection, as Foreign Policy magazine wrote.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and others claim that Zuma’s allies planned the violence. A Zuma-allied faction of the ruling African National Congress called the Radical Economic Transformation orchestrated the riots because they benefitted from the patronage and corruption that was endemic to Zuma’s regime, argued journalist Benjamin Fogel in an Al Jazeera opinion piece.

But while political affiliation explains how the protests and looting began, other factors clarify why they grew out of control.

Officially, nearly one-third of South Africans are unemployed – that number almost doubles if counting only those younger than 35. Half the country lives in poverty. More than 20 percent lack sufficient food. Inequality, meanwhile, is rampant. The coronavirus hasn’t improved these numbers, of course.

Sello Kgoale, 46, had never stolen anything before. He couldn’t resist pilfering rice, cooking oil and paraffin from a local mall after his neighbors told him that the police weren’t stopping looters.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m ashamed,” Kgoale said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, relating how successive waves of the coronavirus killed his aged relatives, rendered him unemployed and ruined his chances of launching a new business. “But we just keep getting hit.”

Lack of economic opportunities, not politics, led Kgoale to break the law. Some wonder about Zuma’s excuse.

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