South Africa is in throes of utter chaos and violence as rioters have gone on a rampage, indulging in vandalism, arson and loot after former President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court.
Protests erupted last week shortly after Zuma started serving his jail sentence for snubbing a panel’s probe into corruption allegations that stained his 9 years of rule.
The protesting crowd wreaked havoc in Gauteng province and KwaZulu-Natal province, Zuma’s home region and the epicentre of the protests. Initially, the demonstrations were against the arrest of the former president but soon enough, they expanded to protests against poverty levels and record levels of unemployment.
The intensifying agitation inevitably spilt over to rioting as violence swept across other regions of South Africa, killing at least 72 people in its wake. Ransacking, looting and arson were witnessed in several parts of the country as protesters ran amok carrying out theft and robbery.
Many of the casualties have occurred in chaotic stampedes as a large number of people looted food, electric appliances, liquor, and clothing from retail centres, KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala told the press on Tuesday morning.
In a bid to quell the violence, military forces have been deployed but not before the riots had turned into racist attacks against white people and members of the Indian community.
Amidst tumult in South Africa, Indians armed themselves against vandals and rioters
While anti-white racism has always been a perennial problem in South Africa, it is particularly stark for the people of Indian origin, who are targeted by a specific racist narrative related to broad perceptions of exploitation in terms of economic opportunities, political corruption, general lack of a socio-cultural ‘fit’ with the rest of South African society.
With South Africa experiencing the worst violence in decades, Indians living in South Africa, too, have been at the receiving end of this unbridled bigotry. Consequently, Indians are facing racist abuse on social media platforms and the platforms are being used to further incite violence against Indians living in South Africa.
Indians are being accused of racism in order to rationalise racist attacks against them. Social media websites are awash with posts egging on rioters and vandals to specifically locate Indians and target their properties and possessions.
Ex-President Jacob Zuma’s association with the Gupta brothers and their role in the corruption cases is being used as an excuse to target many Indian businesses and Indian communities living in Durban and Johannesburg, as per some reports. One such Twitter handle, instigating riots against Indians, wrote, “Let us not forget that Jacob Zuma sold our country to Indian monopoly capital (IMC).” The Twitter handle had shared an image of the tainted Gupta brothers.
As violence, looting and ransacking escalates, the Indian community residing in the country are forced to arm themselves with guns and artillery to ward off rioters and secure the safety of their people and belongings.
Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged people to “stand against violence”.
“What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft,” President Ramaphosa said.
However, many have accused the South African President of not doing enough to stop the violence. The recent spate of anti-white and anti-Indian attacks during the ongoing violence, experts claim, is the result of the racist legacy of President Ramaphosa.
More than 26 years since the end of apartheid, once South Africa’s system of legal segregation, the country continues to remain marred with the scourge of racism. The oppressor and the oppressed simply appear to have swapped places. The simmering racial tensions flared up yet again after the South African government floated a controversial proposal to seize land from white farmers without paying for it.
In 2018, President Ramaphosa announced that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) planned to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation. The party began the process of expropriating land from white farmers for redistribution to black farmers. It followed the “willing seller, willing buyer” model whereby the government buys farms owned by white farmers and redistribute them to black farmers.
The contentious process brought to fore the racial tensions existing in a latent state in South Africa’s society. White farmers opposed the proposal as deeply unjust and approached the courts against it. Blacks, on the other hand, were resentful that most of the farmlands were still under the control of whites.
However, this opposition to the expropriation plan proved costly for white farmers, many of whom were murdered in targeted killings, presumably because they had opposed the African National Congress’s party redistribution plan. However, barring a few journalists and international speakers, who described the killings as “farm murders” representing the beginning of a “white genocide” aimed at driving whites out of the country, others simply glossed over the violence and injustice unfolding in South Africa.
The xenophobic proclivities of the ruling African National Congress
The white farmers have accused the South African government of not taking sufficient measures to protect them. As such, experts cite the dubious history and questionable antecedents of the African National Congress (ANC) for the brazen racism that exist in South Africa and other African nations. They have also pointed towards the methods employed by the ANC to achieve political supremacy, which involves using force, intimidation and violent crime against minorities. In this case, the precarious white population and people of other origins residing in South Africa.
It is alleged that corruption is a hallmark of the African National Congress. Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 because of the mounting corruption charges against him. He was replaced by President Ramaphosa but critics claim his cabinet eclipses every previous era of corruption by a wave of looting so enormous that it overshadows even the most conservative estimates.
Additionally, the ANC has always held a dim view of the rights of the minorities in South Africa. As violence, riots, and looting has become the order of the day, South African president Ramaphosa is resolutely moving towards tightening screws on firearms control—making stringent rules for gun owners—effectively weakening the right to bear arms in self-defence. The stricter restrictions for gun owners is expected to disproportionately affect the country’s white population since they are the victims of the violence that has ensued following the contentious redistribution proposal.
President Ramaphosa has been routinely lambasting colonialism and imperialism on the African continent to strike a chord with his followers and garner their support. Ramaphosa, who took over as the new chairperson of the African Union in February 2020, used his acceptance speech to rail against imperialism and colonialism in Africa. This was in stark contrast with his remarks in 2018 when he hailed China’s investment in the continent. Even though Beijing is notorious for leveraging its financial clout to turn other countries into vassal states, Ramaphosa had no qualms consorting with the Chinese, stating that the deal was not a “new colonialism” but a win-win situation for both Africa and China.
A compendium of racism by key opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a key opposition party in South Africa and the offshoot of the ANC, has similarly been accused of perpetuating racial inequities and creating fissures within the society. In 2018, when President Ramaphosa proposed the expropriation of farmlands from white farmers, the national spokesman of EFF had backed the proposal, saying redistributing land from white farmers without compensation is justified because “it is not really their land”.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, one of the senior party members of the EFF, said in an interview that white farmers descended from Dutch and English colonial invaders and had taken the land through “violent crime against humanity”.
The motion of expropriation of farmlands had sparked concerns among the white farmers, who thought such a proposal would encourage violence against them. After the white farmers approached the court against the horrifying spate of murders of those who resisted the motion, another polarising leader of the EFF, Julius Malema was seen defending the killings, saying “don’t be confused by the so-called farm murders, many more Black South Africans were victims of violent crime”.
It is worth mentioning that in 2011, Malema was found guilty of hate speech for singing “Shoot the Boer”, an apartheid-era song calling for the killing of white farmers. In his defence, Mr Malema and other ANC leaders defended themselves saying the song was the celebration of the fight against minority rule. However, the court made withering observations, noting that the words of the song were derogatory and dehumanising in nature.
Vusi Khoza, the party’s candidate for Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, the province which in the grip of violence, has been convicted of being involved in the xenophobic attack against foreigners at Albert Park, Durban in December 2009.
In 2016, in the midst of ongoing violent university protests that saw incidents of arson and vandalism, EFF Youth leader Omphile Seleke shared instructions for making petrol bombs on social media websites.
EFF and its leadership have revelled in their anarchic and violent tendencies. In January 2018, EFF Deputy President Floyd Shivambu congratulated the party supporters for causing vandalism to various H&M stores across the country because its poster showed a young black child wearing a green hoodie reading, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”.
Then in February 2019, EFF MP Marshall Dlamini launched a physical assault against a member of the presidential security team over a disagreement between EFF MPs and the security.
The present bout of unrest may have roots in the widespread racism and violence that have long been normalised and rationalised by lawmakers in South Africa. Unfortunately, it has failed to attract the kind of attention the racial reckoning in the United States or the xenophobic attacks in Europe does. The international liberal media and the western countries continue to remain mute spectators to the unabated racism experienced in South Africa and other African nations.
Violence, prejudice and oppression directed at anyone, be it black, white, Asian, Indian, American, or others, is indubitably condemnable and racist if it is motivated by racial prejudice. The definition of racism is not dependent on the identity of the perpetrators and the victims. It is abominable regardless of who commits it and who is at the receiving end. It is time that the world acknowledges the anti-white and anti-India bigotry witnessed in South Africa.