2021 South African unrest

Last updated

2021 South African unrest
Date9 – 17 July 2021
(1 week and 1 day) (UTC+2)
Location
South Africa
Caused by
Goals
Methods
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict

Public

Lead figures
Decentralised Cyril Ramaphosa
David Mabuza
Bheki Cele
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula
Sihle Zikalala
David Makhura
Casualties
Death(s)337 [19]
Arrested3,407 [20]

Riots and protests took place in South Africa from 9 to 17 July 2021, in response to the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma. The riots triggered wider rioting and looting, fuelled by job layoffs and economic inequality and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. [21] [22] The unrest began in the province of KwaZulu-Natal on the evening of 9 July, [23] and spread to the province of Gauteng on the evening of 11 July. [24] [25]

Contents

Zuma was taken into custody after declining to testify at the Zondo Commission, an inquiry into allegations of corruption during his term as president from 2009 to 2018. The riots began as protests by his supporters in KwaZulu-Natal before escalating to widespread looting and violence throughout KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. [26] The Constitutional Court reserved judgement on Zuma's application to rescind his sentence on 12 July 2021. [27] [28] [29] As of 22 July, 337 people have died in the unrest, [19] while 3,407 had been arrested by 18 July. [20]

Background

Economy

More than half of South Africa's population lives in poverty, with an unemployment rate of 32%. According to the World Bank income inequality has increased since 1994 in South Africa. [30]

Former South African president Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption in March 2018, mainly in connection with the South African Arms Deal, known as the "Strategic Defence Package" worth R30 billion (equal to US$2.5 billion or £2 billion). [31] The legal battle has continued since then, with Zuma's legal team attempting to have the charges dismissed and appealing for more time to prepare. During the trial proceedings, Zuma has been repeatedly absent from the court, citing medical reasons and lack of funds. [32] The case has proceeded into the Constitutional Court. [33]

Arrest of Jacob Zuma

On 29 June 2021, Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court, after he refused to appear at a commission his government appointed to investigate alleged corruption during his time in office. [34] He was given until the end of 4 July to hand himself in, after which the South African Police Service would be obliged to arrest him. However on 3 July, the court agreed on to hear his application on 12 July. [35] If Zuma refused to surrender by 4 July, the police were given till 7 July to arrest him. [36] Supporters had gathered near his home with weapons to prevent his arrest, [37] however, he handed himself over to the police on 7 July, [38] [39] and was jailed at the Estcourt Correctional Centre. [37]

On 8 July 2021, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola announced that Zuma would be eligible for parole upon serving a quarter of his 15-month sentence. [40] Zuma challenged his detention on 9 July in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on the grounds of health, but this was rejected. [41] His arrest led to violent protests by his supporters, who dubbed their campaign as "Free Jacob Zuma and shut down KZN," in the KwaZulu-Natal province. [42]

Following Zuma's arrest, widespread protesting, looting and violence began nationwide, with his supporters calling for his release. [1]

Civil disorder

Riots and looting

On 9 July 2021, the same day Pietermaritzburg High Court upheld his conviction and prison sentence, the unrest began. [23] [43] Public violence, burglary, and malicious damage to property were reported in parts of KwaZulu-Natal, with at least 28 people being arrested and a highway being blocked. [43] The riots continued on the evening of Sunday, 11 July 2021, when multiple news sources indicated reports of gunshots and explosions heard at local malls and residential areas. [44] The violence quickly escalated, and by the morning of Monday, 12 July 2021, multiple companies and malls were forced to close following widespread looting and violence. [45] As of 21 July, 276 people have died due to the unrest, [46] while 3,407 were arrested by 18 July. [20]

Initial estimates by the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) on 13 July put the loss to the GDP of Durban in excess of R20 billion. [47] The acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni cited SAPOA estimates on 20 July to say that the unrest could cost a loss of R50 billion ($3.4 billion) to South Africa's national economy. [48]

The damage to KwaZulu-Natal's economy alone is estimated to be R20 billion ($1.4 billion) according to Ntshavheni, while 161 shopping malls, 11 warehouses and eight factories in the province suffered significant damages. [49] More than 200 shopping centres suffered looting or damage according to her, while 100 malls were subject to arson attacks, 161 liquor outlets and distributors were damaged, 1,400 ATMs and 90 pharmacies were damaged and about 300 banks and post offices were vandalized. In addition, 40,000 businesses and 50,000 traders were affected overall, while stock worth R1.5 billion was lost and 150,000 jobs were stated to be at risk. [48]

Racial tensions

In the Indian-majority town of Phoenix, KwaZulu-Natal, some of the residents had armed themselves to fight off looters. This in turn stoked racial tensions between the black and Indian South African citizens, with several racially motivated attacks reported to have taken place. [50] Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar raised the issue of the safety of Indian-origin people with the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor, who assured him that the government was trying its best to restore law and order. [51] Police Minister Bheki Cele stated that the main motive behind the Phoenix riots was criminal and that racial issues were secondary. He confirmed that 20 people had died in the town in the unrest. He also warned people against falling for fake news designed to increase racial tensions. [52]

Incitement

Police Minister Bheki Cele stated that the security cluster is looking at ten to twelve people who were fueling the riots through social media. [53] According to State Security Minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, they are investigating information as to whether senior former agents in the intelligence agency and senior ANC members aligned to former president Jacob Zuma are responsible for igniting the recent violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. [54]

Jacob Zuma's daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, is allegedly among those who have encouraged the looting and violence in order to secure the release of her father as an unverified Twitter account under her name encouraged people to protest. [55] [56]

State response

Initially, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was deployed in the Nkandla district to control the number of protests in the area. [57] [58]

Over the weekend, as the South African Police Service (SAPS) battled to contain the large-scale looting and damage to infrastructure, [59] pressure mounted on government to deploy the army. [60]

On the morning of Monday, 12 July 2021, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, as part of Operation Prosper. [61] [62] [63]

On 12 July 2021, president Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the riots, saying that the acts of public violence have been "rarely seen" in democratic South Africa. Ramaphosa referred to the riots as opportunistic acts of violence, citing the lack of grievance, nor any political cause, that can justify the destruction by the protestors. He highlighted the Constitution of South Africa, which guarantees the rights of everyone to express themselves, but stated that the victims of the violence unfolding are the workers, truck drivers, business owners, and the parents of those who have lost their lives and have all done nothing wrong. He went on to discuss the impact of the riots on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, stating that it has been drastically disrupted after prior setbacks. He also noted how the economy of the country would face further challenges due to food and medication insecurity resulting from the riots. The deployment of SANDF to assist with ending the unrest was also discussed by him. [64]

On the same day, the Constitutional Court of South Africa reserved its previous judgement and rejected Zuma's bid to rescind his prison sentence. [65] As a result of the decision, Zuma is required to remain imprisoned. [29]

On 14 July 2021, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that the SANDF had increased the deployed number of troops to 25,000. [66]

Following the unrest, President Ramaphosa announced on 18 July that the government would explore introducing a basic income grant. [67]

Public response

As a result of the state response failing to quell the unrest, private security companies, taxi drivers, armed civilians and vigilante groups have taken on law enforcement duties by protecting businesses and communities from rioting and looting. Petrol stations, shopping malls, supermarkets and communication infrastructure have been guarded by the public, often with the support of business owners and corporations. [68] Vigilante groups protecting suburbs and businesses have worked in an organised manner to arrest looters and to hand them over to authorities, albeit in an often violent manner. [69]

Impact

Effects on logistical networks

Protest effects on road networks
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Road closure
Road protest 2021 Protest Action In South Africa.svg
Protest effects on road networks
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  Road closure
  Road protest

Roads

Road closures on both the N3 and N2 have affected the transportation of goods from the east coast into provinces in the north. [70] [71] [72] This affects the transportation of goods to landlocked countries in Africa including Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. [73] [74]

Multiple logistics and fuel companies declared forced temporary closure of their operations in KZN, citing fears of continued looting, hijackings, truck burnings, and social unrest that could further impact business operations, adding to more costs sustained from the looting and damage to property. [75] [76]

Container ports

The container ports of Richards Bay and Durban have ceased operations. Containers in the port of Durban have been plundered. After several attacks on trucks, the N3 Highway, which links port Durban with Johannesburg, was closed on 10 July. [77]

Rail

State-owned logistics operator Transnet declared force majeure on 14 July on a rail line linking Johannesburg to the coast. [78]

Supply chain disruptions

Food shortages

A surviving grocery store's queue reaches 800m long shortly after reopening. 15 July, Queue for Gillitts Checkers reaches 800m long by 9am in the morning..jpg
A surviving grocery store's queue reaches 800m long shortly after reopening.

On 12 July 2021, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa warned that widespread looting, destruction and closures would lead to food shortages across the country. [79] By 14 July 2021, damage to transport infrastructure had caused food shortages, leading to queues outside grocery stores, and prevented harvesting and distribution of fresh produce. [80] On 15 July 2021, the largest food manufacturer in South Africa Tiger Brands suspended bakery operations in affected areas due to damaged infrastructure and facilities while also noting that it had suffered a loss of stock in excess of R150 million. [81] Some stores and petrol stations in Johannesburg noted that their shelves were getting emptied and supplies were dwindling due to panic buying. [82] A Durbanite journalist noted that while bread had returned to their area, people were paying significantly more for it and were queueing for many hours at a time. [83] Stores were also placing limits on how much customers could buy while community-run barricades reportedly turned people away if they could not prove they were from those communities. [83]

Empty shelves in a grocery store due to panic buying during the 2021 South African unrest SAUnrestPanicBuying.jpg
Empty shelves in a grocery store due to panic buying during the 2021 South African unrest

Fuel shortages

The Sapref oil refinery, which is a joint venture between Shell and BP, is the largest oil refinery in Sub Saharan Africa. [84] It supplies approximately one third of South Africa's fuel needs and its operations were suspended due to a declaration of force majeure. [84] On 15 July 2021, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy placed prohibitions on the citizens' ability to buy fuel in portable containers and canisters, citing concerns that stockpiling would exacerbate the situation. [85]

Medical supply shortages

Clicks and Dis-Chem, the two largest pharmaceutical retailers in South Africa, reported supply disruptions due to looting. The provision of clinical medicine to hospitals was also disrupted. [86] As of 16 July, it has been estimated that approximately 50% of patients with chronic illness in KwaZulu-Natal lack an adequate supply of necessary medicine. [87] Healthcare providing facilities in Pietermaritzburg were placed under severe pressure due to many members of staff being unable to get to their posts, while those that did get there had to deal with an influx of trauma patients. [88] A junior doctor from Pietermaritzburg said that the disruptions in the supply chain resulted in an inability to restock medication, PPE, blood, and syringes. [88]

Financial

Economic

The South African rand weakened as much as 2% on 12 July, the most it has since 25 February. [89] Based on a preliminary analysis on 13 July, the SA Special Risks Insurance Association (SASRIA) estimated that total losses due to damage and looting may run into "billions of rand". [90]

On 19 July 2021, officers of the eThekwini municipality and KwaZulu-Natal provincial government provided a recovery roadmap to the Toyota Motor Corporation. Reportedly, the unrest had led the multinational to doubt the security and viability of its investments in the province. [91]

Destruction of property

By Monday afternoon on 12 July, more than 200 shopping centres had been looted, with several in Soweto having been ransacked. [92] On 14 July, the SA Pharmacy Council noted that 90 pharmacies were completely destroyed with the bulk of those in KwaZulu-Natal being hit the hardest. [93] In Durban, during a 14 July media briefing, the mayor of eThekwini announced that up to 45,000 businesses were affected with 129,000 jobs at stake and over R16 billion (nearly $1 billion or £793 million) in damages to stock, property, and equipment. [94] ICASA announced that 113 network towers had been vandalised, resulting in the disruption of cellular networks. [95] The National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa decried the looting and vandalism of 32 KwaZulu-Natal schools, one of which burned down, as contemptible. [96] In Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, a crematorium was completely destroyed. [97]

Suspension of services

Many of South Africa's banks had to shut down their ATMs, branches, and other facilities in response to the unrest. [98] [99] Over 300 Capitec Bank branches and ATMs were closed, [98] Nedbank closed 226 branches as well as 59 Boxer outlets, [98] ABSA Bank closed approximately 375 branches, [98] and Standard Bank had to close 81 branches in KwaZulu-Natal and 116 in Gauteng after 33 of their branches and 220 ATMs were affected. [99] In Pietermaritzburg, ambulances and other medical staff feared being attacked and were unwilling to go into dangerous areas, and in some cases they were not able to get to emergencies. [88]

COVID-19

COVID-19 vaccine rollout crisis

Following the impact of the looting and destruction to property, multiple COVID-19 vaccine rollout sites were closed to prevent looting and property destruction. [100] These precautions slowed the vaccination roll-out while the country was still battling its third wave of infection. [15] [16] The SA Pharmacy Council's Vincent Tlala said that COVID-19 vaccines were among the looted items from pharmacies that were affected. [93]

On 15 July, 2021, the World Health Organization's Africa director Matshidiso Moeti warned that South Africa would see an increase in cases due to the disruptions across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. [101] She also noted that while the vaccination programme was aiming for 300,000 vaccines a day before the unrest unfolded, they had only done under 154,000 on 14 July. [101] A junior doctor from Pietermaritzburg mentioned that they were running out of PPE for their Covid wards in the midst of the third wave. [88]

Superspreader event

Epidemiology Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim cautioned that the ongoing riots could be a superspreader due to large numbers of people gathering in small and confined places. [102]

Reactions

Domestic

Governments

Supranational organisations

Aftermath

Clean-up operations

By 15 July 2021, volunteer groups in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal had begun repairing damaged property, donating food and providing transport to affected communities. [119]

Judicial proceedings

As of 16 July, police had arrested one unnamed individual suspected of instigating the unrest and were investigating other suspects. [120]

Thulani Dlomo, the former head of the State Security Agency special operations unit and a loyal supporter of Zuma, is reported to be under investigation for inciting unrest. [121]

On 19 July 2021, Bruce Nimmerhoudt, a mayoral candidate for the Patriotic Alliance party, appeared in court on charges of incitement to commit public violence. [122]

As of 19 July 2021, 682 individuals face prosecution on allegations of public violence, looting, and destruction of infrastructure. [123]

Zuma criminal trial

On 20 July 2021, it was agreed that Zuma's criminal trial for the South African Arms Deal case would begin on either August 10 or August 13, 2021. [124] [125]

See also

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