On July 4, the Burton Wire reported former South African president Jacob Zuma had been sentenced to 15 months in prison for failure to appear in court to respond to corruption charges during his presidential administration. Four days later, Zuma, a major figure in the African National Congress (ANC) and the dismantling of Apartheid turned himself in on the contempt charges, and began serving his prison term. Zuma, 79, previously served 10 years in prison alongside former South African president Nelson Mandela for leading the fight against apartheid, a system of segregation and racial oppression, patterned after the Jim Crow system in the United States.
Protests erupted after Zuma turned himself into police, with violence and destruction ending in what is now 72 people dead. CNN is reporting, “Among those killed in the violence were 10 who died in a stampede in the township of Soweto,” which was announced by Police Ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba. More than 1,200 others have been arrested in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal — where Zuma is from — and Gauteng.”
Soweto, a city created in the 1930s when the government systematically started separating Blacks and Whites, and at one time was South Africa’s largest majority Black city, has been gutted. Current South African President Cyril Rhamaposa has said the country will deploy 25,000 troops to help end the violence, which is also due to the lack of food, health services and jobs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, South Africa’s youth unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 62.3 percent (2020) amid an overall unemployment rate of 43.2 percent. (2020). In some areas of the country, particularly in the Eastern cape which houses some of the poorest regions, unemployment rates can run as high as 90 percent. There has also been a shortage of healthcare workers to deal with the COVID-19 cases. Some of the main protest routes have shutdown the ability to travel causing widespread panic and exacerbating the problem with getting care, products and services. For example, SABC reports, more than 200 000 beneficiaries have been affected by the suspension of social grant payments at pay points due to ongoing protests in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal according to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA).
Zuma’s arrest kicked off the protests, but the dire circumstances during the COVID-19 lockdown have inflamed the protesters, who have been pillaging warehouses, malls and businesses over the course of the last few weeks.
Zuma’s attorneys had tried to get Zuma released because they allege Zuma’s rights were violated by the Constitutional Court. They also stated he would be at high risk to contract COVID-19 which is rampant in prisons in South Africa. They argue at Zuma’s age and with underlying health conditions, this imprisonment for contempt could end up being a death sentence for the former president and anti-Apartheid activist. The judge has yet to rule on the request.
This story is ongoing.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.