Irish archbishop in South Africa mourns ‘violent’ unrest

Irish archbishop in South Africa mourns ‘violent’ unrest Jacob Zuma

The perceived unfairness of ex-president Jacob Zuma’s jailing and hardship caused by the effects of the pandemic are behind the “violent” unrest currently taking place in South Africa, according to Irish missionary Archbishop Liam Slattery OFM.

At least 32 people have died during the unrest at the time of writing, the toll in KwaZulu-Natal province alone at 26.

“In response to this 79-year-old man, ex-president, being put in jail, he is a Zulu, from the province of Natal, KwaZulu – it’s a Zulu province. Mainly in this province, people have reacted quite strongly to the jailing of this man,” Archbishop Slattery explained.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic from South Africa, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Mariannhill said many residents of this province have reacted to what is perceived as the injustice of Mr Zuma’s jailing.

“One of their chief arguments is that many of the generals and government leaders in the old political apartheid regime simply went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and got pardon for their offences, whereas Zuma, who was one of the leaders of the liberation…. is now being sent to jail, so this is the argument they use here in KwaZulu-Natal.”

Last month saw South Africa’s top court impose a 15-month term on Mr Zuma for quelling a probe into corruption during his nine years in office.

He began the sentence last Thursday, but is seeking to have the ruling set aside.

Archbishop Slattery described the reaction since then, ascribing it to the difficulties people have endured under lockdown, too.

“What has happened since last Thursday is they’ve begun to react violently. First in small groups by disrupting traffic on the national roads, and this now, an awful lot of the looting has come into the whole process.

“It’s worth remembering huge numbers are unemployed here, because we’re at level 4 of the lockdown. We have 26-27,000 new cases every day of the coronavirus, and so people are very frustrated economically and socially at the moment. The Zulus see this as an unfair treatment of who they regard as a liberation figure.”

Archbishop Slattery said it’s “hard to predict” when the riots will conclude, but that the “majority of the people” are “very upset by this and they want peace and don’t want this sort of insecurity”.