Jump to navigation

South Africa

More probes and prosecutions will follow failed insurrection

Despite the government's slow response, it has public support to crack down hard on the looters and their sponsors

President Cyril Ramaphosa managed to get through his national TV address on Friday (16 July) condemning the people behind this 'attempted insurrection' without once mentioning the name of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. He didn't need to. When the President spoke about an attack on South Africa's constitution and democracy, the audience drew its own conclusions.

The past week of armed confrontations between criminal gangs and the police and army started as protests against the jailing of Zuma for 15 months for contempt of court. They started within hours of Zuma handing himself over to the police just before midnight on 8 July (AC Vol 62 No 14, Relief as Zuma surrenders). Over 200 have been killed in the ensuing mayhem.

Loud demands for Zuma's release quickly morphed into violent clashes and mass looting when groups of armed militants, some apparently with military training, took to the streets in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma's home base, and Gauteng, site of the country's political and commercial capitals.

Some of the looters were desperately poor, while others turned up in expensive cars or hired trucks to grab some of the goods on offer. As well as the big department stores and supermarkets, looters stripped local stores bare. Some will not reopen.

After three days of looting, the gangs turned to arson, setting fire to looted stores and the apartments above them. Then they broadened their targets to electricity sub-stations and water-treatment plants. For a few days, they paralysed the workings of the oil refinery in KwaZulu-Natal, one of the biggest in Africa.

As water and food started running out and power cuts worsened, some state officials accused former security officials loyal to Zuma of fomenting, even planning the chaos as a putsch against Ramaphosa.

By the middle of the week, Ramaphosa announced he would send in 2,500 soldiers to quell the turmoil. Hours later he raised the number to 25,000.

Three things are clear in the aftermath: public sympathy for Zuma has fallen sharply as has the prospect of him being offered a pardon should he be convicted on any of the corruption charges he faces; investigators are following leads about the organisers of the insurrection and there are likely to be some high-level prosecutions; and the government faces more political pressure than ever to improve local services, partly by sacking corrupt officials.

On 21 July, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is to announce whether local elections will go ahead as scheduled on 27 October or be postponed until the latest wave of coronavirus infections has subsided.

A weird fact of the country's political life is that despite its ruinous factional disputes and many of its senior cadres being besmirched by corruption claims, the African National Congress still dominates the electoral field, even though it may lose a few more municipalities to opposition parties (AC Vol 62 No 12, More time for the truth).

Related Articles

Relief as Zuma surrenders

After organising a mass rally to back his defiance of the Constitutional Court, ex-president Zuma was arrested on 7 July

At the stroke of midnight and after hours of negotiating with senior officers, ex-President Jacob Zuma handed himself over to police on 7 July. He now starts a 15-month sentence fo...

More time for the truth

Three years of testimony on a decade of political and corporate crime are to be followed by a wave of prosecutions

Few countries have had more thoroughgoing probes of their business and political classes but a bigger test is coming next. Can the governing African National Congress shut out the...

Crossing the Limpopo

Zimbabwe threatens the grand African plans of Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo

From the splendour of Pretoria's Union Buildings, President Thabo Mbeki's vision of a resurgent Africa is obscured by the sprawling crisis in Zimbabwe. Almost everything Mbeki want...

Betting on the market

Finance Minister Manuel wins praise for his business budget but joblessness is growing

Income taxes and the budget deficit are down, defence spending is up. That conservative combination in Finance Minister Trevor Manuel's budget on 23 February won plaudits from busi...

A king's ransom

The King of the Zulus, Goodwill Zwelithini, has been allocated 30 million rand (US$4.4 mn.) by the state for the 2006/2007 financial year. There are fears that he could overspend b...