South Africa’s poverty rates have long been high, and the pandemic exacerbated the situation for the country’s lowest-income people. Furthermore, weeks of riots in South Africa have left buildings burning, food scarce and many people in Durban and the surrounding cities starving.
Reasons for the Riots
On July 8, South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma started serving a sentence of 15 months in prison for contempt of court, an offense that entails disrespectful or insulting behavior toward a court of law or law officials. Zuma’s imprisonment angered supporters, especially in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. As a result, violence and unrest began to spread within the province.
Rioters blocked major highways and burned about 20 trucks, resulting in the closing of two major roads that link the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richards Bay to the industrial hub of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Furthermore, looters ransacked shopping malls, taking food, electronics, clothes and liquor. The attacks spread through KwaZulu-Natal to the Gauteng province, the country’s largest city of Johannesburg and the seat of the country’s executive branch, Pretoria. In Durban and Pietermaritzburg, rioters also burned warehouses and factories, collapsing many of their roofs. A week into the riots, 25,000 army troops were deployed, ending the violence, but plenty of damage had already been done.
The Manipulation of the Poor
Thousands of businesses have closed due to fear of ambush by rioters. In addition, because of many looters taking clothes, food, medical supplies and even flat-screen TVs, more than 200 malls have been forced to shut down.
With many businesses closing down in the Durban area, food, clothes and other supplies are rarities. For people living in poverty in Durban and the surrounding towns, food was always scarce, but now it is even more so than usual. Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana, a political analyst, said the communities have left people in poverty to fend for themselves in a system that keeps them in poverty, causing them to start lashing out.
While the riots initially protested the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma, their continuation reflected general grievances over the inequality and poverty that have rocked the country. Amid people in poverty’s anger about decades of mistreatment and discrimination, criminals used the chaos for their own benefit.
July’s riots hit people with unstocked pantries and massive debt the hardest. President Cyril Ramaphosa sent troops to aid police in quelling the riots, but people in poverty remained in need of immediate relief.
Muslims for Humanity
Many Muslim organizations in South Africa have come together to bring relief to people impacted by the riots. South African Muslim businesses and NGOs such as Muslims for Humanity and Natal Memon Jamaat Foundation (NMJ) have come together to distribute bread and milk to communities impacted by violence and looting in the Durban area.
– Aahana Goswami