Johannesburg – South Africa is facing its most serious crisis since white-minority rule ended in 1994.
Violence and looting triggered by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma have claimed 72 lives and dealt a blow to a sickly economy.
Here’s background that helps explain the story:
The race-based system of apartheid that favoured the white minority over the black majority became official government policy in 1948.
The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 to defend the interests of the black majority.
It was banned in 1960 after the Sharpeville massacre where 69 demonstrators were killed by the police. Its top leaders were locked up in 1964.
In 1976 the crackdown on the uprising in the Soweto township left hundreds dead. The international community took sanctions against the white regime.
ANC leader Nelson Mandela, who had spent 27 years in jail for his efforts to overthrow apartheid, became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after the ANC’s victory in the first multiracial elections.
Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 heralded a new dawn for South Africa, stoking hopes of democracy, prosperity and equal opportunity.
The veteran campaigner stepped down in 1999, leaving the ANC the dominant player on South Africa’s political stage but bogged down in political and graft scandals.
The party’s internal crisis peaked in 2018 when Jacob Zuma was forced to step down from the presidency after nine years in office.
His successor Cyril Ramaphosa promised to stamp out corruption, but has struggled to overcome resistance from Zuma loyalists and grassroots ANC members.
After Zuma last week began a jail sentence for refusing to testify to an anti-corruption commission, protests snowballed into looting.
Three decades after the abolition of apartheid, South Africa remains a two-speed economy with one of the highest inequality rates in the world, the World Bank says.
Three out of five live in poverty.
Businesses remain mainly owned by whites, who make up only around 9% of the working population. Most of South Africa’s arable land remains in the hands of white farmers.
It is one of the most violent countries in the world with a rate of 35.8 homicides for 100 000 inhabitants.
The continent’s most industrialised economy, South Africa was already in recession when the government in March 2020 imposed one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world, slowing the spread of the virus but also economic prospects.
The economy contracted by 7% last year, plunging two million more people into poverty, according to the World Bank.
The unemployment rate hit a record level of 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021. Two young people out of three are out of a job.
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