Fears of violence grows following Jacob Zuma’s jail ruling

Jacob Zuma was jailed for contempt of court and mobs went on a burning and looting rampage. File image.

Jacob Zuma was jailed for contempt of court and mobs went on a burning and looting rampage. File image.

Published Jul 15, 2023


Johannesburg - South African police officials say they are ready to act if the country, reeling under socio-economic hardship, erupts into violence after the Constitutional Court ruled that Jacob Zuma should not have been granted medical parole.

Two years ago this week, Zuma was jailed for contempt of court and mobs went on a burning and looting rampage that left dozens dead and billions of rand in damages, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Drones, more boots on the beat and the filling of top posts would prevent a repeat of the July 2021 insurrection, police said after the Concourt ruling on Thursday.

It was unclear whether Zuma ‒ who is in Russia for medical treatment, according to the Jacob Zuma Foundation ‒ would be taken back to jail.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said recommendations of the July 2021 unrest report were continuously implemented by the SAPS and that the recruitment and training of 10 000 police officers were proof of its capacity-building to prevent and combat crime.

“To bolster its intelligence capacity, since the July riots, 21 senior management positions in the Crime Intelligence environment have been filled. The SAPS has seen the permanent appointment of a divisional commissioner of crime intelligence and a Deputy National Commissioner for Crime Detection,” said Mathe. In addition, 400 former police members would be re-enlisted and undergo detective training, she said.

Violence monitor Mary de Haas yesterday said despite several reports and lots of talk, there was no sign that anything substantial had been done to overhaul the police, and crime intelligence in particular, to prevent a repeat of the violence.

The Department of Correctional Services said it was taking legal advice on whether the former president would return to jail.

Yesterday, Business Unity SA (Busa) said while it had no intelligence on a possible repeat, it urged citizens to act with restraint.

In the run-up to the Concourt ruling this week, several trucks on the country’s national roads were gutted, similar to the start of the 2021 uprising.

Busa chief executive officer Cas Coovadia said: “With regard to the Constitutional Court decision on Zuma, we urge government, particularly law enforcement and security agencies, to be pro-active in gathering intelligence of any planned activity and deal with this urgently. We trust these agencies have learned from the 2021 insurrection and have jacked up intelligence.”

Mervyn Abrahams from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group said conditions on the ground were ripe for social unrest because life was “just so difficult to survive” and all people would need was a trigger, just as Zuma’s incarceration previously did.

“People don’t want violence, even those who are involved in it,” said Abrahams.

“The risks exist and we have to find ways to support households in this climate. You can forestall social instability by creating a climate of trust by acknowledging the ‘depth of desperation’, deepest in informal settlements, and coming up with plans,” he said.

Professor Alex van den Heever, chair of Wits University’s Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies, said that while there appeared to be a faction that was trying to reignite the July 2021 unrest, the chance of them succeeding was unlikely.

“It is not happening. The costs to many of the people who participated in that 2021 July action were extraordinary. People were harmed, communities were harmed. You carried away a couch, but you suddenly lost your shopping centre, people in your area lost jobs. So I don’t think people are terribly keen to play that game again,” he said.

Van den Heever added that there were individuals using the same playbook as in 2021 by trying to instigate national shutdowns and the recent burning of trucks on several major highways.

“These guys are trying, but the ground is not right for this,” he said. “In countries where you have large scale insurrections, it’s where you have absolutely no vote. Immense frustration builds up, but in South Africa we do have the vote.

“This is clearly somebody’s agenda, it’s not society’s agenda,” he said.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said it would ask Zuma to voluntarily surrender himself for prison within a reasonable time frame and if the Department of Correctional Services dragged its feet, it would take further action.

“Mr Zuma must now pay the consequences for his flagrant disregard for the rule of law. This judgment must now also serve as an important legal precedent ensuring that any and all ANC members and public representatives implicated in state capture cannot ever abuse the medical parole process to evade accountability,” Steenhuisen said.

ActionSA said it was “extremely suspicious” that a day after the court ruled that Zuma should return to the Estcourt Correctional Centre to complete his prison sentence, it emerged that he had “fled” to Russia for medical attention.

ActionSA president Herman Mashaba said: “President Zuma has long used the same Stalingrad tactics, such as endless and vexatious interlocutory court action or seeking medical attention, to avoid answering questions at the state capture inquiry or going to prison as ruled by the courts.”