South Africa riots: 25,000 troops deployed to quell violence, what Zulu king said and Zuma's Indian connection

·4-min read

South Africa has deployed 25,000 troops to assist police in quelling the week-long riots and violence sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, which led to the deaths of over 70 people. This, as the Indian government has raised concerns about the safety of the Indian community in South Africa.

The violence erupted after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to testify at a State-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.

What is the ground situation in South Africa?

The protests in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu-Natal escalated into looting in township areas, although it has not spread to South Africa's seven other provinces where police are on alert.

According to official figures, 72 people have died and more than 1,200 people have been arrested, while South Africa's consumer goods regulatory body estimates that more than 800 shops have been plundered.

Stores and warehouses in Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal provinces have been ransacked, devastating supply chains on which food, fuel and medicines depend in Africa's most industrialised economy.

The unrest, however, continued in KwaZulu-Natal province where several factories and warehouses were smoldering Thursday after being targeted in arson attacks. There were renewed attacks Thursday on shopping centers in KwaZulu-Natal, which is Zuma's home province.

Most soldiers deployed since 1994

The South African National Defence Force has also called up all of its reserve force of 12,000 troops, in the largest deployment of soldiers since the end of white minority rule in 1994 and 10 times more than the deployment on Monday. Trucks, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters are being used to transport soldiers to trouble spots in the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.

The armed patrols appear to have succeeded in bringing stability to Gauteng, South Africa's most populous province which includes Johannesburg, the country's largest city. Army troops stood guard at the large Maponya mall in Soweto, which was closed.

Volunteer groups cleaned up shattered glass and debris from shops that had been stormed and looted in Johannesburg's Soweto and Alexandra townships.

What will be the immediate repercussions of this violence?

President Cyril Ramaphosa told leaders of political parties that parts of the country "may soon be running short of basic provisions" following disruption to supply chains.

"The next big crisis will be the threat to food security in KZN, along with the supply of medication and fuel," said John Steenhuisen, head of the Opposition Democratic Alliance. "Protecting these supply chains must be a priority of the deployment."

The violence has hit South Africa's vaccination rollout and also disrupted access to essential healthcare services. There were also reports of clinics being looted and problems with the delivery of oxygen to hospitals treating coronavirus patients, according to The Guardian.

What is Zuma's link with the Indian community in South Africa?

Of the corruption charges against Zuma, the most significant involves the Gupta family, which hails from Uttar Pradesh but moved to South Africa in 1993. The family owns coal mines, computer manufacturing business, newspapers and a media outlet. Interpol had issued a red corner notice against the three brothers over a 2016 graft report, according to Hindustan Times.

A chartered plane, used to transport guests for the wedding of one of the relatives of the Gupta family in 2013, landed at the Waterkloof Air Base in Pretoria, used only for receiving heads of states and diplomatic delegates. The incident invited an immediate outcry and local media dubbed it as 'Guptagate'.

How has the Indian community in South Africa been affected?

Clashes have erupted in Durban between black South Africans and counterparts of Indian heritage, according to Agence France Presse. On Wednesday night, Police Minister Bheki Cele visited Phoenix, a predominantly Indian community where 15 people have been killed in clashes. The hashtag #PhoenixMassacre was trending on Thursday.

"The Indian nation here in KZN is the second largest outside of India," the new Zulu king, Misizulu Zulu, said in an appeal to his community on Wednesday. "We have lived in peace for many years alongside them. Therefore I ask: Let us be understanding and thoughtful towards each other."

India on Wednesday also reached out to Ramaphosa's government, which assured it that the attacks were not racially motivated.

A ship brought the 342 Indians to South Africa in November 1860, but today, it is home to the largest population of Indian descent in the continent, writer and fourth generation South African Indian Zainab Priya Dala told Quartz.

With inputs from agencies

Also See: South Africa's highest court to hear Jacob Zuma's challenge to jail sentence on 12 July

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