After 75 deaths and more than 1,200 arrests, the wave of violent riots and massive looting that has ravaged South Africa in recent days is now the most serious outbreak of violence to occur in the southern country since the conquest of democracy in 1994.
How did the so-called “rainbow nation” and one of the most developed countries on the continent come to this situation? Five context clues help to understand the crisis unleashed on July 9:
Imprisonment of the former president
The imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma, adored by many for his image as “president of the people” and hated perhaps even more for his great corruption scandals, was the trigger for the first protests, which would later degenerate into a massive wave of crime.
Zuma, 79, was convicted in late June of contempt for having repeatedly refused to testify for corruption. Although he peacefully surrendered “in extremis” on the night of July 9, he had previously insisted that he is the victim of political-judicial persecution and that the prison sentence will be a “death sentence” for him because of his age and your health.
Most unequal country in the world
More than 27 years after the official end of the racist segregation system of “apartheid”, South Africa is still grappling with the wounds inherited from that time, which affect the black population much more profoundly.
According to data from the World Bank, the southern nation remains the most unequal country in the world, unemployment has remained entrenched at around 30% for years (with even worse figures for young people) and more than half of the population lives in poverty.
The coronavirus was particularly aggressively primed with South Africa. Not only is it the country with the most cases and deaths in Africa, but during mid-2020 it was also among the five nations in the world hardest hit by COVID-19.
The dominance of the beta variant in the second wave and of the delta in the third great epidemic curve have forced the country to re-impose and maintain tough restrictions, since vaccination, as in the rest of the African continent, is still very advanced. slow.
South Africa is a country with serious crime problems, especially in the big cities. Between 2019 and 2020, the southern nation had been registering an average of 58 murders a day and the numbers of violent crimes have maintained a growing trend for a decade.
In addition to this factor, the transformation of one-off protests and outbreaks of violence into waves of looting is a relatively frequent phenomenon, although to a lesser extent than in recent days. The last great precedent was the xenophobic riots that took place in September 2019, which left at least 12 dead.
The big question now, in a South Africa already dedicated to quenching the latest outbreaks of violence and cleaning the tracks of devastation, is to resolve the responsibility for the chaos of the last days. The government insists that it has been “economic sabotage” and points out that the violence was orchestrated and instigated to destabilize the country.
In this sense, the local media place at the center of the investigations family members, ex-spies and militarized veterans related to Zuma and question to what extent the influence of the former president on South African intelligence could have impacted on the inefficient response of the overwhelmed security forces.