Lessons to the continent from South Africa chaos

By Levi Obonyo
Friday, July 16th, 2021 00:00 | 3 mins read

It matters a lot what leaders do. What may have started as a battle of wills between former President Jacob Zuma and the South Africa Judiciary, has turned out bloody. South Africa is burning. Literally.

Over the last one week both the provinces of Gauteng that houses the country’s commercial hub of Johannesburg and KwaZulu Natal; home to the populous Zulu nation and the continent’s leading port city of Durban have been left looking like war zones.

And that is not all. It seems that the violence may continue to other regions leaving an economy that is already battered following the devastating effects of Covid-19 and other factors, the worse for it. It is still too early to estimate what the eventual bill is going to be.

But business has been disrupted. Supermarkets have been looted and other commercial activities stopped.

Goods are not moving in the country and already there are shortages of food supplies and other commodities. Long lines of people at the remaining shops are now being reported.

But it should have not come to this. This all started long ago before Zuma rose to power but intensified during his presidency.

A migrant family from India- the Guptas, arrived in South in 1993 to set up a computer company; Sahara, based in Johannesburg. 

Soon their business interests began to spread, and it was not long before Atul Gupta; the star of the estate comprising brothers and other family members spread across South Africa, India, Dubai and the USA, was ranked among the top ten wealthiest people in South Africa.

Along the way, they became friends with the Zuma family and as fate would smile on them, Zuma rose to power to lead one of the continent’s richest economies.

To take care of their interests, it is said that the Guptas would influence, through their association with Zuma, appointments in the Zuma administration and other policy directions.

Across the country, activists were screaming corruption through what became known in South Africa as state capture.

By the time Zuma left office, hundreds of cases of corruption were following him to his retirement home in Nkandla, in Kwa Zulu Natal. 

The Zulu, who occupy the province have had uneasy relationship within the ruling African National Congress.

In the fight for independence, most of the members of the Zulu nation were followers of the Inkatha Freedom Party that for long was led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The rivalry between IFP and ANC almost derailed the independence struggle in South Africa, but fate intervened.

When the courts started prosecuting the corruption cases, after Zuma left office, they called the former President to testify. 

The stubborn freedom fighter that he is; for Zuma was raised in the struggle for independence, living in exile and underground for many years and leading the intelligence wing of the struggle, declined to testify claiming the Judiciary was already biased against him.

When he refused to testify in court, the courts called his bluff and handed him 15 months in jail for contempt of court.

Last week, Zuma who brands himself as “100 per cent Zulu boy” handed himself in to start serving his term. The rest is now history.

But the Zuma case may just be a tip of the iceberg. The violence could actually be a response to failed promises by the ruling party; which in the recent past, has began to see its popularity dwindle in the polls, the poor distribution of wealth in South Africa, the lack of employment opportunities in a country where the unemployment rate is now close to 40 per cent, among other factors.

The case of South Africa is a warning shot to other African countries where the gap between the rich and the poor has grown big and yet the ruling class remains blind to the plight of the poor.

It is a warning to political discourses framed along class or economic capacity lines, that things can easily turn bloody and burn the country with the rhetoric. —The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

Levi Obonyo