SOUTH AFRICA offers dry kindling for political conflagration. Unemployment and inequality are preposterously high. Many people lack food, electricity and running water, while members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) gorge on graft. The two years before covid-19 hit saw more protests than probably at any time in the democratic era. The pandemic, by far Africa’s worst if official statistics are to be trusted, has killed at least 65,595 people and plunged many more into destitution.
Yet the violence that has engulfed the country in the past week is not a spontaneous protest against such ills. It was incited, and in some cases perhaps instigated, by people close to the former president, Jacob Zuma. Their narrow aim is to have him released after his imprisonment on July 7th for holding in contempt a judge-led inquiry into his corrupt reign of 2009-18. Their broader goal is to make the country ungovernable so as to undermine his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa. For South Africa’s sake—and Africa’s—they must not succeed.