After protests in South Africa, the nation wonders: What now?

“Things can be recovered ... but there is an impact in the community,” said Richard Ncube, 40, a former police officer.

8/3/2021 12:59:00 PM

People across South Africa are surveying the damage caused by recent politically triggered riots; the city of Durban has estimated over $1B in damages and lost goods.

“Things can be recovered ... but there is an impact in the community,” said Richard Ncube, 40, a former police officer.

A gas station outside the Ridge shopping center in Durban, South Africa, that was looted during riots.Linda Givetash / NBC NewsSpeakers of Zulu are over a quarter of the population, making it the most common first language in the multilingual nation; nearly 15 percent of people speak isiXhosa.

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Unlike his predecessors — one a freedom fighter and international icon and the other widely seen as a dry technocrat — Zuma relies on appeal resembling that of former PresidentDonald Trumpin the U.S., Bohler-Muller said.“There is this rapport that is built around race, ethnicity, the concern for the poor,” she said. “And he can quite easily mobilize his followers.”

The Gini index, which measures inequality, has remained stagnant since the end of apartheid, hovering over 0.6, making South Africa the most unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank.Black Africans made up the largest proportion of those below the poverty line in 2015 government data, at 47 percent, while white people made up just 0.4 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Black Africans accounted for 11 percent of the wealthiest households in 2015 despite being 81 percent of the total population.

Card-carrying ANC member Trevor Kamato, 30, said he is a strong supporter of both Zuma and currentPresident Cyril Ramaphosa. While he doesn’t think the violence diminished support for Zuma, he said it has affected the movement calling for his release.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma faces corruption and fraud charges connected to a 1990s arms deal. He pleaded not guilty this year.Nic Bothma / AFP - Getty Images file“It has taken away some level of merit from the protest itself,” he said. “It makes it seem as though it was done for nefarious purposes.”

While Kamato, who is unemployed and lives in Johannesburg, acknowledged the failures of the government, he also said Zuma did a lot of good for the country.“He has raised or has been vocal about some very important facets of the economy,” he said.Zuma’s administration had said that during his tenure, it delivered millions of houses to the needy, as well as housing subsidies, and provided grants to over 17 million people in poverty.

That same year, apublic inquirywas launched into a range of corruption allegations involving Zuma, from giving preferential treatment to businesses that had long-standing relations with him and his family to appointing Cabinet ministers who benefited private business interests. He also faces corruption and fraud charges in a separate trial regarding a 1990s arms deal, to which he pleaded not guilty this year.

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The cost of his tenure to the economy exceeds $35 billion, if not double that, Ramaphosa said at the Financial Times Africa Summit in London in 2019.Zuma’s supporters are largely a vocal minority. His approval rating upon leaving office in 2018 stood at just 30 percent, experts said. But the effect of the unrest can have wide-reaching effects both within the country and abroad, said Leaza Jernberg, an expert in geopolitics and international security based in Johannesburg.

“We have ports and infrastructure that a lot of countries inland don't have, and that gives us an economic and political advantage,” she said. “I think that's going to be our biggest concern, is how do you rebuild that image of South Africa as a gateway into Africa, and is that still appropriate?”

‘South Africa is for ANC’What has been made starkly clear during the last weeks is just how much trust in official institutions has eroded. By 2018, only 30 percent of South Africans said they trusted the national government, down from 67 percent in 2004, according to a national survey.

Support for the century-old ANC, an emblem of modern South Africa, has also declined in recent years. In the 2019 election, it got 57 percent of the popular vote, down from 65 percent a decade earlier.The persistent loyalty, however, leaves some disillusioned.

“South Africa is for ANC. They can do whatever,” said Dawood Phillip, 28, an employee of the looted cellphone repair shop at The Ridge.A supporter of former South African President Jacob Zuma holds an African National Congress flag in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal on July 2, 2021.

Emmanuel Croset / AFP - Getty Images filePhillip would seem to be a natural constituent of the party, but he said that if he had to vote now, he would be at a loss about whom to choose.“I don’t see anyone who is talking good things,” he said.Bohler-Muller said the Democratic Alliance is perceived as too white for the majority-Black electorate, while the Economic Freedom Fighters are viewed as too radical in their left-leaning ideology.

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Jernberg said that until the ANC rebuilds its image or splinters or another party emerges, it will be up to the public, and possibly cities, to set the course of the country.The courts are also seen as a beacon of hope. Whatever verdict comes out of the corruption cases will send a clear message to the public, reassuring it no one is above the law.

“It will convince people because the court is trusted,” Bohler-Muller said.It’s a sentiment even a Zuma supporter can agree with. Read more: NBC News »

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Get Zuma and his fans to pay for the damage. None of that damage was necessary. If Zuma cared about the people, no damage to their livelihoods would have occurred. Instead of focusing on the damage as usual, why not focus on understanding and repairing what lead to the riots in the first place. Fix the inequities.

There was a politically triggered 'riot' in South Africa & I'm just finding out now.

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