South Africa has had 2 weeks of rioting since the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma on July 7. Zuma was sentenced to prison for 15 months for contempt of court after failing to appear before an inquiry investigating corruption.
The rioting started as a political demonstration from the city of Durban, stretching now to Pretoria and Johannesburg. Over 200 people have been killed across the country, over 2500 arrested, and others under surveillance. One of the reasons behind the rioting is that former President Zuma was a former anti-apartheid freedom fighter, and many are angered at his jailing. Other issues include the extreme poverty and income inequality that exist in South Africa. The pandemic has also caused many problems, with the unemployment rate surpassing 32% in the first quarter of this year. Furthermore, the income inequality can be visible across race lines as well, where there is a white elite and a majority black population.
The rioting has caused many highways to be closed, in addition to ransacking by mobs of shopping malls and centers. Many shops in Durban are now rationing food after being unable to replenish markets.
Many activists are arguing for the stark inequality with different groups of South African society to be addressed.
Eusebius McKaiser, a South African political analyst, says in an interview with NPR, “The single biggest deep cause of what we see playing out are levels of inequity in the South African society that logically at some point would have ended in social unrest. We’ve got 74% of young people unemployed, not in educational institutions, nor in training facilities where they might get apprenticeships to learn new trades that they can use within the labor market. We’ve got a Gini coefficient that puts us up right there with countries like Brazil, competing for the horrible dishonor of being one of the most unequal nations on Earth, whether it’s by income, wealth or asset. Half the population is chronically poor, and we have economic growth that is almost near 0%. We had an economic recession even before the pandemic. So the structural realities about South African life when it comes to the state of the economy are such that you’ve got a small number of people at the top who are wealthy, a precarious middle class of sorts, and then you’ve got a massive base of people on the margins of society. That, for me, is a very important part of the explanandum for what is going on in South Africa right now.”
As the situation calms down, keep up-to-date with the ways in which inequality can cause intense problems in nations. The riots in South Africa are not operating in a vacuum, but have consequences that can be felt worldwide as more and more of the 99% became aware of the consuming global inequality.