Violence Casts Shadow Over South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Democratic Gains

Alex residents queued for hours to buy basic foodstuff after shops were looted. The unrest has caused a humanitarian crisis, as has not been seen since the dawn of democracy in South Africa. Credit: Dan Ingham

By Kevin Humphrey
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, Jul 23 2021 – Twenty-seven years after South Africa’s first democratic elections, the country finds itself reflecting on the catalysts of a week of looting and destruction of property resulting in more than 200 deaths and US$ 1.3 billion in damage.

President Cyril Ramaphosa described the week-long riots earlier this month as a failed insurrection.

Immediately before the violence, former President Jacob Zuma had handed himself over to prison authorities to begin serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to appear before the State Capture Commission. The commission is investigating widespread corruption in the country.

While there is an apparent link between the jailing of the former president and the looting – most analysts agree that several factors led to what has been described as a perfect storm. Of these many explanations, analysts have highlighted this is a country left ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, which contributed to an increase in unemployment, endemic poverty that has persisted since 1994, the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) inability to unite its factions and entrenched racial and ethnic divides.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has planned hearings on the matter. It says it considers the “events which led up to violent incidents in different provinces, along with the resultant consequences, are complex and multifaceted.”

The SAHRC also stated that it had noted tensions that have erupted within and between particular communities – from Phoenix in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, where communities took up arms against looters, to Alexandra, popularly known as Alex, in Johannesburg, Gauteng.

Alex is an area where tensions and dissatisfaction go back for many years. The area, which has been inhabited since before the infamous 1913 Land Act, which removed land ownership from all black people in the country, was a major site of resistance during apartheid. Its post-apartheid history has been one of many unfulfilled promises, botched service delivery and allegedly corrupt practices in the Alexandra Renewal Project.

Writing for GroundUp, Masego Mafata says activists in Alex say nothing has changed after a protest in the area in 2019.

“As Alexandra is seized by mass looting and protests this week, a report from the Public Protector and the SAHRC following the devastating 2019 protests has revealed persistent failures by the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial government. While the recent protests are reportedly linked to the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, the joint report suggests that Alexandra’s community is a tinderbox for public unrest.”

Economic hardships and income inequalities, exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, are seen as a leading cause of dissatisfaction around the country.

In the recently published International Journal for Equity in HealthChijioke O Nwosu and Adeola Oyenubi say, “nationwide lockdowns have resulted in income loss for individuals and firms, with vulnerable populations (low earners, those in informal and precarious employment, etc.) more likely to be adversely affected.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions’ spokesperson Sizwe Pamla also pointed to multiple reasons for the rioting and looting.

“While the current events were triggered by political restlessness and frustration following the arrest of Former President Jacob Zuma, it is clear now that criminal elements have opportunistically hijacked this issue and are using it to loot,” says Pamla.

“This is also a reminder that the problem of unemployment and poverty is real in South Africa. COSATU has been arguing for a long-time that unemployment is a ticking time bomb that will explode in the face of policymakers and decision-makers.”

For individuals like Georgio da Silva, the owner of a car repair workshop in Jeppestown, Johannesburg, xenophobia also appears strongly in the mix of contributing factors. He and others in the area have experience in defending themselves and their businesses against xenophobic attacks.

Georgio da Silva, a car repair shop owner, saved his business in an area vulnerable to xenophobic attacks.

Immediately after Zuma reported to Estcourt prison and violent attacks began, Da Silva told IPS he managed to shut down his workshop but had their property damaged. Later he realised that xenophobia was only one of the motivating factors.

It is imperative that the complex mix of factors contributing to this ‘perfect storm’ of anarchy and insurrection be examined to prevent future occurrences – the political tensions within the ruling party also have to be factored in.

The bitter factional battle going on within the ANC resulted in Ramaphosa’s display of weak leadership. Barely having recovered from a week of violence, South Africans were left confused as even members of his cabinet could not agree on the unrest’s cause.

Police Minister Bheki Cele says he did not get intelligence reports regarding the unrest from the State Security Agency’s Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, which she disputes.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula contradicted Ramaphosa by saying the unrest was not part of a failed insurrection. She had since backtracked from this statement.

Political analyst, author, director of research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection and emeritus professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Susan Booysen, told IPS the “signature of factionalism in the ANC is printed all over the recent unrest in the country. While not being completely a root cause of the unrest, factionalism can be seen as the basic trigger that, once pulled, set the series of events in motion. Clearly, a faction of the ruling party was prepared to take part in instigating this kind of behaviour as a way of ‘getting its own back’ in the over politicised atmosphere that currently holds sway in the country.”

Professor Steven Friedman, Research Professor at the Faculty of Humanities, Politics Department at the University of Johannesburg says his “reading of the violence is that factional politics was important but not necessarily in the obvious way.”

While the violence was caused in reaction to the jailing of Zuma, which gave it a factional slant, he doubted the ferocity of violence in KZN  if it had simply been about supporting him as head of an ANC faction.

“My view is that people in political and economic networks, which are part of the faction which supports Zuma became convinced that the balance of power had shifted and that their networks were now in danger of being closed down. This would have ended their political and economic influence, and so they reacted by triggering the violence to protect their networks,” Friedman says.

What needs doing in the wake of this catastrophe is that South Africa deals with the glaring issues that have made this situation possible. These include appalling economic inequalities and a society racked with endemic violence that is the legacy of apartheid and colonialism. The country has democratic foundations, including a widely-lauded Constitution necessary to build a better society.

South Africans do have the capacity to face these challenges and build a country that delivers on its full potential as a thriving nation where there are equal opportunities for all.

–        Kevin Humphrey was an activist during the anti-apartheid struggle and is a freelance writer and editor.


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Need for the Creation of a Real National Public Health System in Nepal

As Nepal faces breaking point amidst its worst COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations and its partners launched in May 2021 the Nepal Covid-19 Response Plan calling for US$ 83.7 million to mobilize an emergency response over the next three months to assist 750,000 of the most vulnerable people affected by the pandemic. The plan was endorsed by the Nepal Humanitarian Country Team and the Government of Nepal’s COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre and lays out critical areas of support required to complement the Government of Nepal’s response efforts. Credit: World Health Organization (WHO)

By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jul 23 2021 – Following the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstall the House of Representatives and appoint– after a prolonged and nasty legal battle– a new Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, there is high probability that a government of national unity will be put together in Nepal.

After months of uncertainty and utter disregard of the rule of law by former Prime Minister Sharma Oli, whose attempts to remain in power at any costs has severely impacted the country’s response to a more lethal 2nd wave of Covid 19, the new government has the work cut out.

Not only it needs to do whatever it takes to avoid another and much more brutal outbreak but also it must take the responsibility to reboot the entire health system before the next general election.

Though predictability and certainty are not yet common features of this still young democracy that just few years ago undertook an ambitious path towards federalism, if everything will go smooth, the country will still have to wait one and half year before the next vote.

It is enough time for an experienced though not necessarily effective politician like Deuba that he is embarking on his 5th and possibly last term as Prime Minister, to be ambitious and lay the foundations for the establishment of real national public health system.

Certainly, it is going to be a daunting task especially in a country in which the private sector was enable, in the past two decades, to take advantage and exploit a weak regulatory system to its own advantages.

During the 2nd wave there have been multiple cases of private hospitals extracting exorbitant fees from family members of patients affected by Covid.

No matter several tokenistic attempts at regulating the health care costs during the crisis and far from a real crack down of such practices, it wasn’t unsurprising that the Ministry of Health and Population’s perception of a toothless institution was greatly magnified during this second wave.

It did not help that the first doses of vaccines sent by India months ago were distributed with too loose criteria or with no criteria at all.

For example, banks’ workers and many other representatives of the private industries, including those in the tourism sector, the latter mostly unemployed since the first outbreak last year, were included in the list of essential workers deemed as priority.

I am wondering why not then ensuring in such list also streets vendors or small shop keepers from whom the vast majority of Nepalis still buy their daily groceries or why not simply prioritizing only the elders, many of which had to wait for months and months before receiving the 2nd dose?

It is clear that despite certain proven level of expertise, the Ministry of Health and Population could not prevail in the tough process of decision-making regarding vaccine distribution that was centralized by Oli and his advisors, with their quest of power at any costs and with any means topping any public health’s concerns.

Poor governance and disregard of constitution so predominant with the Oli’s administration costed the lives of thousands of people. Deuba does not need to start from scratch.

First of all, while this scriber is writing, it is certainly positive that the new Prime Minister is inaugurating a new vaccination program.

Provided that several pledges of new vaccines will materialize into real inoculations on the ground in few weeks from now, listening to the experts and ensure that scientific evidence prevails over politicking, will be essential.

The scary truth is that, with every aspect of the lockdown being lifted, the second wave did not really die off yet and it soon could metastasize in a much more dangerous contagion.

The infections are increasing day by day and as per yesterday only in the Kathmandu Valley there were almost 500 cases a day, a figure that might be indicative of a worse scenario soon to come. Getting this right and finally prioritize this emergency is going to be essential.

This means finding an agreement, albeit a temporary one, with the private hospitals that must adhere to common national standards in the provision of Covid 19 related care.

The urgency to avoid a third wave might bring some common sense among the private operators that must drastically reduce the cost of their services for all those Covid patients.

Such agreement could become a template for future and much tougher negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a truly cooperative approach where private operators should become an essential though complementary pillar of a national health system.

Similarly, to what happened for the Covid 19, existing regulations on whatever is legit to be charged on the public for any type of health service is not only scarcely regulated but even less enforced.

Linked to this issue is that any new budget provisions should drastically scale up the national health insurance program that has been implemented so far only through a too timid phase in manner that created a spotty map of the places where such service is accessible.

Ask any citizens of the country and there will be high probability that they never ever heard of such provision.

The insurance not only needs to be accessible everywhere in an easy and predictable fashion but also the max coverage allowed should be increased.

As per now with a contribution of 3500 NRS (around $ 30 US), a family of five can be reimbursed up to 100,000 NRS a year, around $ 830 US a year).

This is not barely enough to cover the real expenses of any major operation even in public hospitals which keep charging the public even if they are much more accessible (or just simply less costly) than their private counterparts.

The legal framework is centered on the Health Insurance Act that was approved in 2017 but what is needed is not only a big push towards its implementation.

There is also a need of an amendment for making it on the one hand more inclusive and on the other, mandatory rather than just voluntary in nature like per the current provisions.

Last but not the least, Oli, in one of his “grandeur” decisions, had declared the creation of 396 new public hospitals.

In the budget that was presented by his former Finance Minister just at the end of May, whose destiny is now totally uncertain with a new government in place, there were provisions for this herculean program whose implementation, provided that the resources will be available, risks to be marred by corruption and rent seeking.

Realizing these hospitals, in cooperation and partnership with the provinces and municipalities who are in charge now of public health, would truly provide a big breakthrough to enable the creation of a real national public health system.

Certainly, Deuba and the coalition of parties that will prop him up in the months ahead, including his Nepal Congress, are much keener than Oli towards the implementation of a truly federal state, a very complex undertaking that would never work out without the full support of parties in power in Kathmandu.

With so much at stake, Deuba would better ensure his legacy by effectively starving off a third Covid 19 wave and by building the columns of a more equitable, just public health system in Nepal.

The Author, is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.


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