Authorities in South Africa have sent troops into two provinces to help the police cope with violence following the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma. At least seven people have been killed and over 200 arrested following looting and arson attacks that started in Zuma’s home province of Kwa-Zulu Natal after he began his 15-month prison term on Thursday.
Pro-Zuma protesters first hit the streets after the 79-year-old former president handed himself to authorities on Wednesday to begin his sentence. Criminals subsequently took advantage of the situation, the police said. Protests later spread from the former president’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg, in Gauteng, where images have shown homes and buildings on fire. The police had to ask for support from the army.
“The South African National Defence Force has commenced with pre-deployment processes and procedures in line with a request for assistance received … to assist law enforcement agencies deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces respectively to quell the unrest that has gripped both Provinces in the last few days,” South African military said in a statement on Monday as the country’s top court began hearing a challenge by Zuma against his prison term.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa appealed for calm on Sunday evening, saying that “there are those who may be hurt and angry”, but adding “there can never be any justification for such violent, destructive and disruptive actions”.
Zuma was admitted to Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal last Wednesday. The 79-year-old was handed the jail term on June 29 after failing to appear before a corruption probe. It became the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president had been sentenced to prison.
The former president was given five days to turn himself in. If he refused to do so, the police were given until the end of last Wednesday to arrest and bring him in. Zuma had initially refused to hand himself in, but the Jacob Zuma Foundation in a statement on Wednesday said he had “decided to comply”.
In February, Zuma failed to attend before a corruption investigation conducted by Raymond Zondo, the deputy chief justice. The investigation is looking into accusations of high-level graft. The veteran politician has denied wrongdoing. The corruption investigation was launched by Zuma himself, under pressure from the ruling African National Congress, just before he was deposed in 2018. But he only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout a few days later. He refused to return to court on multiple occasions, citing medical reasons and preparations for a new corruption trial as justifications. In November, he reappeared for a brief appearance but departed before being questioned.
Zuma, in a separate matter, is standing trial on charges of corruption in connection with the acquisition of fighter planes, patrol boats, and military equipment from five European weapons companies for 30 billion rand (about $5 billion) in 1999. Zuma was President Thabo Mbeki’s deputy at the time of the acquisition.
Zuma had launched two court proceedings to avoid going to prison. He applied to the Constitutional Court to rescind his sentence. That application will be heard on Monday, July 12. On Friday, South Africa’s High Court dismissed an attempt to stay his arrest.