South Africa’s image as a stable and most developed country on the continent has been shattered by the ongoing looting and lawlessness in protests against the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma. Sadly, more than 70 people have been killed in the riots that started on Friday, just a day after Zuma began serving a 15-month jail term for being contemptuous of the country’s highest court.
More than 200 shopping malls have been looted and some torched. And although most of the looting is by the majority black population, some whites, too, have also been breaking into shops and stealing goods. Want does not know race.
Africa’s leading nation has, rather annoyingly, degenerated into unimaginable chaos with widespread destruction of property. The police have been largely overwhelmed by mobs of rowdy youth, who feel no shame as they have nothing to lose.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has been compelled by the descent into lawlessness to order the military to back up the police. He has described this as the worst violence since 1990s before the end of apartheid.
The incarceration of the former head of state may just have ignited a long simmering problem: A record 33 per cent unemployment among the workforce and 46 per cent among youth, both ticking bombs that have now exploded.
However, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud: Zuma’s jailing is a welcome confirmation that nobody, irrespective of social status, is above the law. Ironically, Zuma himself is on record as declaring support for the justice system where all are equal before the law. He is serving as a good example of that.
However, the situation whereby the majority are unemployed, helpless and disillusioned across the continent is worrying. Unless the socioeconomic challenges are addressed, the ticking bombs in other African countries are likely to explode.