South Africa. In January, the town of Soweto outside Johannesburg was shaken by xenophobic riots that claimed at least six people’s lives and led to approximately 180 people being arrested by police. Hundreds of foreigners fled the area. The violence was triggered since teenagers tried to rob a store and the foreign owner shot one of them to death. The riots went on for a week and over 100 stores owned by foreigners in poor suburbs with high unemployment were looted.
The police were criticized for late intervention, and President Jacob Zuma was accused of not quickly and clearly enough to distance himself from the violence and xenophobia. His government proposed legislation that deprives foreigners of the right to own land in South Africa.
According to COUNTRYAAH, Pretoria is the capital of South Africa which is located in Southern Africa. Zulukungen Goodwill Zwelithini held a speech in April criticizing foreigners, blaming them for growing crime and urging them to pack and return to their home countries. Many believed that this triggered the new riots, which then flared up when immigrants were attacked in Durban, Johannesburg and other cities. At least seven people were killed and more than 5,000 became homeless in new looting. According to the UN Refugee Commission, most affected refugees and asylum seekers left their home countries because of war and persecution.
President Zuma canceled a visit abroad to deal with the crisis. Perpetrators of the violence were arrested and prosecuted. The army was ordered to Johannesburg suburb Alexandra, where a Mozambican was stabbed to death. Police and military were then deployed to track illegal immigrants. In a few months, around 10,000 people were arrested for various crimes, and over 15,000 paperless immigrants were rejected. According to the authorities, many voluntarily chose to be sent home. Operation Fiela received criticism as “state-sponsored xenophobia”.
The attacks on foreigners in South Africa led to counter-attacks in the migrants’ home countries in Africa. In Mozambique, a border crossing was blocked and stones were thrown at South African cars. South African workers were evacuated for security reasons. South African companies were threatened in Nigeria with closure, and protests were held at South African embassies in a number of countries.
President Zuma was again challenged by his harshest critic, Julius Malema, who was excluded from the ANC (African National Congress) and founded the left-wing party EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters). In Parliament, Zuma’s speech to the nation was interrupted by Malema, who demanded notice when Zuma would repay the tax money used for a contentious and expensive renovation of the private home. Malema and his party mates were swept away.
Harsh protests came from the opposition when the government announced in June that the state had no recourse to Zuma for the renovation of his luxury estate in KwaZulu-Natal. The police minister’s decision went against the Ombudsman, who pointed out illegality and asked Zuma to reimburse part of the cost.
In August, a corruption indictment was filed against Malema on the grounds that the trial was postponed for too long, for three years. Malema had been charged with fraud, money laundering and extortion. The decision was a victory for Malema in the battle against President Zuma.
During the year, the Democratic Alliance (DA) elected a new leader, 34-year-old Mmusi Maimane, who thus became the party’s first colored leader.
According to an investigation by the government, there were shortcomings in the police force behind 34 striking miners killed in Marikana in 2012. It was the worst police violence in the country since the apartheid era. The investigators, who were appointed by the president, acquitted the government of responsibility, but blame was placed on the mining company and on the trade unions’ handling of the conflict.
The release of the government upset the victims’ relatives and their lawyers who had accused Cyril Ramaphosa, vice president and leader of the ANC. Ramaphosa sat on the board of the mining company in 2012 and was alleged to have used his influence to push forward a strike from the police. However, according to investigators, there was no evidence that his intervention had affected the behavior of the police. As a result of the report, the country’s police chief was suspended while her role in the shooting deaths was investigated.
The government’s decision to raise tuition fees at state universities in October led to major student protests that many poor, black students would not be able to afford to continue their studies. Most of the protests were peaceful, but in Cape Town the police proceeded hard on students outside Parliament as well as in Pretoria outside the presidential office. The pressure from the students drove President Zuma to promise unchanged tuition fees for 2016. In Johannesburg, student demonstrations continued with demands for free education.
Thousands of protesters demanded President Zuma’s resignation in December, after he kicked off the country’s respected finance minister and caused turbulence in the financial market.
Top politicians in the governing party charged
The secretary general of the ruling ANC party, Ace Magashule, has been charged with several counts of corruption, money laundering and fraud. The crimes are said to have been committed in 2014 when Magashule was the leader of the province of Free State and Jacob Zuma was the country’s president. According to the indictment, many millions that were intended for asbestos removal have never been used for the purpose but ended up in private pockets. Several suspects in the so-called asbestos scandal were arrested earlier this year (see 30 September). Magashule, who is a close friend of former President Zuma, is the highest-ranking politician accused in the complex web of corruption and financial irregularities surrounding the former president’s term. Magashule denies the allegations and does not intend to resign at the moment, despite the ANC earlier this year deciding that corruption suspects who hold a high position within the party should leave their posts until the matter is investigated. A hardening power struggle is now expected between the phalanx within the ANC that supports Magashule and the one that supports President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Veterans force foreign business owners to close
The war veterans ‘organization Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA), which has close ties to the ruling ANC party, is threatening foreign businessmen in Durban and forcing them to close. MKMVA accuses the migrants, who come from Somalia and Zimbabwe, among others, from taking jobs from poor South Africans. They demand that only South Africans be allowed to do business in the center of Durban. Xenophobic protests flare up from time to time in the country’s big cities where hundreds of thousands of South Africans are unemployed and living in poverty.
The largest opposition party gets a new leader
South Africa’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), elects party veteran John Steenhuisen as the new leader. Steenhuisen has been acting in the same position since the former party leader Mmusi Maimane resigned just over a year ago (see 23 October 2019).