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Unrest and mass arrests in South Africa

What led us here? - Jacob Zuma's Woes

  • In 2005, Jacob Zuma (South African president 2009 - 2018) was charged with raping a family friend. He was, however, acquitted in 2006. Some South African women believe Zuma escaped justice when he was acquitted, aided by a legal system that regularly fails women subjected to sexual violence.

In 2016, four anti-rape activists disrupted Zuma's speech with a demonstration in support of Khwezi (the pseudonym given to the woman who accused Zuma of rape).

  • Zuma was also charged with corruption in 2005. This charge was in connection to a multi-billion dollar 1999 arms deal. Charges against him were dropped shortly before he became president in 2009.

  • In 2016 the court ruled that Jacob Zuma breached his oath of office by using government money to upgrade his home in Nkandla.

  • In 2017 the public protector asked Zuma to appoint a judge-led inquiry into allegations that he profiteered from his relationship with the wealthy Gupta family - he denied allegations, as did the Guptas.

  • In the same year, Zuma sacked a respected finance minister, triggering anti-Zuma protests across South Africa. Protesters marched in Cape Town, Durban, and Pretoria, calling for his removal.

  • In August 2017, Zuma survived a no confidence motion in South Africa's parliament. For the first time, the vote was conducted by secret ballot.

  • Zuma approved an inquiry into claims of state looting in 2018.

  • The Supreme Court of appeal ruled in 2018 that Mr Zuma will face prosecution for 18 counts of fraud, one of racketeering, two of corruption, and one of money laundering (relating to the arms deal) which he denies.

  • Zuma announced his resignation on 14 February 2018 on the eve of a no-confidence vote in parliament, and was succeeded by President Cyril Ramaphosa the next day.

"No life should be lost in my name..." - Jacob Zuma as he was resigning from his post in 2018.

The straw that broke the camel's back

In 2018 the High Court of South Africa backed a decision to reinstate charges from 2009 of corruption against Zuma relating to a £3bn arms deal from the 1990s. He faced 16 counts of corruption, racketeering, fraud, and money laundering, relating to a total of 783 illegal payments. Zuma pleaded not guilty in May 2021.

On June 29, 2021 the Constitutional Court found former president Jacob Zuma guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment after Zuma defied an earlier court order to return and testify before the Zondo Commission.

The Zondo Commission is a public inquiry launched by the government in January 2018, to "investigate allegations of state capture, corruption, fraud, and other allegations in the public sector including organs of state" in South Africa.

This official inquiry had been investigating the corruption allegations Zuma faced during his nine-year presidency - especially his relationship with the Gupta brothers, whom fled South Africa in 2018.

3 days later the former president made an application to the Constitutional Court to rescind its issued prison sentence. In an affidavit filed to the court on Friday afternoon, Zuma asked that his ill-health and the fact that he was 79 be taken into consideration, especially as he was considered high-risk amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

On July 6, 2021– The Pietermaritzburg High Court heard an application brought by Zuma to interdict the police from arresting him until his other urgent application to the Constitutional Court to rescind its contempt of court judgment is heard.

On July 8, Jacob Zuma handed himself in to police to serve his 15-month sentence for contempt of court.

Where are we right now?

Government officials in South Africa deployed the military on 12 July to confront violent unrest after protests over the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma devolved into looting and other destructive lawlessness, fed in part by poverty and scant opportunity. The unrest has so far been limited to South Africa’s two most densely populated provinces: Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN, Zuma’s home province). Crowds continue to clash with police and burn shopping malls in South Africa, with over 200 reported killed.


Though some of the protests in South Africa appear to have been triggered by former President Jacob Zuma’s detention, they are also associated with grinding unemployment and hardship inflicted by a toughening of anti-COVID measures.


More than 1,750 people have been arrested in the lawlessness that has raged in Gauteng and KZN, and some COVID-19 vaccination centres have been closed, disrupting urgently needed inoculations.

"The wave of violence has hit South Africa’s faltering vaccination rollout and also disrupted access to essential healthcare services including the collection of medication by patients suffering tuberculosis and HIV. " - Ministry of Health.

There is also a growing fear over shortage of food. As violence continues, looting has hit supply chains and transport links in the Johannesburg region and the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, sending a shockwave through the delivery of goods and services around the country. According to Transnet, a logistics group, major South African ports Durban and Richards Bay, as well as a rail line connecting Durban with the Gauteng province have also been disrupted.

More than 200 shopping malls had been looted by Monday afternoon and retailers have lost an estimated 2 billion rand according to Busisiwe Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa.

source: Twitter/TrafficSA

Opinion | Dineo Mya Serame

When he resigned in 2018, former President of South Africa Jacob Zuma said he did not want any life to be lost in his name. Though at the time those of us watching his "act of bravery" against a government that didn't want him anymore may have felt sympathy and pride, three years later those words seem hollow. Zuma wasn't the best president, but he also wasn't the worst. He's a president who had a scandal-plagued reign, but he was charming enough to make it palatable. There's no denying, most of us were glued to our screens whenever he started singing "Umshini Wame". He was a president of the people, and people adored him! 
Award winning comedian Trevor Noah sold-out shows to talk about him and his way with numbers. Simply put, Jacob Zuma was a breath of fresh air and a source for good creative writing, not just for comedians. So when he resigned, we were proud! We expected it days earlier, but we were all proud of how an African president could "choose" to leave such a powerful role, especially at a time when the cards were stacked against him. Most of us didn't understand how he even made it to the presidency after the 2005 scandal, but that's Africa for you!
It's fascinating that even after all the scandals Zuma still has such a following. As I said, people adored him, and some still do. But it is interesting that some of the people who called for his removal in 2017 don't want him to be held accountable for his actions 4 years later. Leaders are meant to be the best examples of good governance and moral standing, so if we can't hold them accountable to the laws they help set up (in some cases), then how is society supposed to function?
A part of me wants to believe that President Zuma "abused" state funds because he fought so hard for the freedom of South Africa and never felt rewarded/recognised for it. So maybe it was his way of reclaiming what he felt belonged to him. Or perhaps he grew disillusioned with the disparity between the South Africa he may have dreamed of and the one you see today, and gave up. But this doesn't make it right in any way.

Other than the Zuma saga, South Africa is in a very bad space. It has been for a while, but the pandemic has made us shift focus from trying to rebuild as nations to putting bandages on old wounds and ventilators on new ones. The ongoing unrest in South Africa may seem to have started in support of Zuma, but it has always been more than that. The people of the Rainbow Nation are hungry! The pandemic has seen a lot of people retrenched and governments are struggling to stay afloat. Unfortunately, South Africa has gotten the worst of it with more COVID-19-related cases and deaths than any other African nation. South Africa's unemployment rate also reached its all time high of 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021 as the construction and trade industries shed jobs. This unemployment rate is among the highest tracked by Bloomberg. 

The people of SA needed a way to amplify their voices, to be heard by their government. Zuma's arrest gave them the platform for that. It gave them the perfect reason to speak out and take action to help themselves. And it is sad that it has had come to that. 
The government was shortsighted in their stealing from the people for years. Our keyboard Warriors were shortsighted in their response to the observation of what seemed inevitable. The hungry people seem shortsighted in their looting and burning. There will be dire consequences. - Thuso Mbedu on twitter (Underground Railroad actress)
Most of us will never fully understand why and how SA got to this point, but to some of the looters, it's about being able to put food on the table for your kids. And I need to stress, I don't condone looting/violence in any way. I am just trying to understand why it is happening, and hopefully have the right people address the root cause of the problem and not the symptoms. Prayers and my activism is all I can offer at this point, but to my South African friends, Modimo a nne le lona!

What can you do to help?

  • People wishing to help communities affected but the unrest can donate to the Shoprite Act For Change Fund in any Shoprite, Checkers or Unsave in South Africa.


Collections for KZN/Gauteng

Instagram pages to check about relevant information on donations (KZN)

Clean up

Join the Durban global shapers @clean_up_kzn on 18th of July 2021 as they'll be cleaning up the city of Durban. Volunteers can bring gloves, brooms and black refuse bags.

You can also join Rebuild KZN group on Facebook to help.

Mental health/wellbeing @thesouthafricantherapist

Check our Get Help tab for more mental health services in your area.


Heroes of the week

Naledi Manyoni and her daughter Melokuhle.


For more information


South Africa's unemployment rate rose to an all time high of 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021, and the coronavirus pandemic has killed off the economic growth South Africa desperately needs.


Final Words

South Africa, you demonstrated the power of non-violence to the world at the most difficult time in your history. Painful to see you bleed today. May you unite & and build back the strong, vibrant nation that we all know & admire. Blessings. – Sadhguru


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