After a week of public violence that shocked the world, South Africa is beginning to reflect on the cause.
Mass looting and destruction of property followed the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court after he refused to testify at an inquiry into corruption alleged to have happened when he led South Africa between 2009 and 2018.
The violence left more than 200 people dead and hundreds injured, with damage to the economy estimated at billions of dollars. The unrest was only quelled by the deployment of 25,000 soldiers, who are still patrolling parts of the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
The African National Congress, or ANC, government has been widely criticized for its handling of the crisis. Speaking to the nation this past weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the riots were “orchestrated” to cause social instability and “severely weaken, even dislodge,” his administration.
“Using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection,” Ramaphosa said. “They’ve sought to exploit the social and economic conditions under which many South Africans live… and to provoke ordinary citizens and criminal networks to engage in opportunistic acts of wanton looting.”
Ramaphosa said the chaos was used as a “smokescreen” to carry out “economic sabotage” by burning trucks and blocking key highways, and torching warehouses, factories and shopping malls.
“Through social media, fake news and misinformation, they’ve sought to inflame racial tensions and violence,” he said. “Worst of all, these instigators have sought to manipulate the poor and the vulnerable for their own benefit. This attempted insurrection has failed. It has failed to gain popular support amongst our people.”
One of the alleged instigators is Thulani Dlomo, who used to be one of Zuma’s top intelligence agents. Police arrested and questioned him on Saturday but released him without charge.
Dlomo told reporters in Durban he never instigated anything, as he was a “patriotic, God-fearing” South African.
“Our people must not allow any influence that will divide our communities. We must unite, as the people of this country, in ensuring that we leave a legacy for our children and for the next generation. So, this is not the time to point fingers,” he said.
ANC veteran and former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said it’s important that the inciters are punished for what they’ve done.
But Kasrils said it’s also important to acknowledge the violence stems in part from what he said is the ruling party’s failed economic policies, such as former President Thabo Mbeki’s GEAR project, which did not meet its goal of increasing growth. GEAR, or Growth, Employment and Redistribution, also called for job creation and restructuring of the economy.
“The GEAR program,” he said, “was not an economic system that was really able to radically deal with what Mandela said was our priority, and that was changing the lives of the poorest of the poor.” He was referring to late President Nelson Mandela.
Instead, Kasrils said immense wealth remained with a few white capitalists, and a new, super-rich class of black tycoons.
He said while the ANC did provide some houses and basic services to the poor, poverty and inequality increased, largely because of the ruling party’s failure to create jobs.
Then, Kasrils said suspected corruption siphoned off billions of dollars that should have been used to fundamentally improve South Africa. The investigation into allegations that Zuma and others in his government were involved has split the ANC, with many voters standing with Zuma, who has denied any involvement in corruption.
On Monday, Zuma’s corruption trial resumed. He faces charges of fraud and bribery relating to the purchase of military jets when he was vice president in 1999.
Proceedings were being held via video link, and the defense was expected to focus on its request to have the prosecutor dropped from the case, saying he has leaked information to the news media.
(This report originated in VOA’s English to Africa service.)