/ 19 July 2021

KwaZulu-Natal gets back to work as fears of second shutdown fail to materialise

Safrica Politics Unrest Economy
Hundreds of people queue to enter a supermarket stoking a fear of food and fuel shortages in Durban on July 14, 2021 as several shops, businesses and infrastructure are damaged in the city, following five nights of continued violence and looting sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma. - So far, 72 people have died and more than 1,200 people arrested, since former president Jacob Zuma began a 15-month jail term for contempt, sparking protests that swiftly turned violent. The violence, targeting malls and other economic hotspots has seen shops and infrastructure destroyed. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

Public transport has begun running again and residents of Durban and other KwaZulu-Natal towns are returning to work, despite an attempt over the weekend by supporters of former president Jacob Zuma to engineer a second shutdown on Monday morning.

Tensions are still high in some areas — including Hammarsdale, where arson attacks and looting took place on Sunday — and security forces are on high alert over a simultaneous  attempt to stage a major protest at the Estcourt Correctional Centre where Zuma is serving his 15-month sentence for contempt of court.

However, the city’s taxi industry is back on the road after a week of violence and destruction around Durban, which saw the main commercial and warehousing nodes to the north, west and south being torched in what is now believed to have been a co-ordinated campaign by Zuma’s backers to render South Africa ungovernable.

On Saturday, influential taxi boss Mandla Gcaba went on radio and TV to deny claims carried in a voice note circulated by Zuma supporters over the weekend that his family taxis would be providing free transport to take protesters to Estcourt to force the authorities to release Zuma. 

Gcaba is Zuma’s cousin.

The voice note, which was distributed widely over the weekend and caused panic among residents fearing a second flare-up of violence and looting, also called on people to stay away from work on Monday and to shut the province down in support of Zuma.

The clarification by Gcaba, which came at the request of the South African Police Service (SAPS), appears to have had the desired effect, with taxis running again on Monday morning.

A number of suburban shopping malls that were looted early last week were cleaned up by volunteers over the weekend and were also in the process of reopening, albeit tentatively.  

Elsewhere, clean-up operations continued, while the military and the SAPS maintained a high-profile presence on key transport routes and in areas such as Phoenix, where racial tensions flared up last week and 20 people were killed.

Police and army units cordoned off the area around the Pietermaritzburg high court, where Zuma’s corruption trial, stemming from a 1990s arms deal, is sitting, in anticipation of potential attacks on the precinct.

Zuma’s legal team wants the hearing — which will deal with their application to have prosecutor BIlly Downer SC removed from the case — to be postponed until the former head of state can appear in person. 

The Monday hearing is being conducted virtually.

Correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo confirmed that the department was aware of the threat to the prison and would “continuously monitor the situation.””

”The facility is calm and operating as usual,” Nxumalo said.