Editorial of the “World”. Hundreds of shopping centers and stores looted, 117 dead on July 15, distribution channels attacked and disrupted to the point of threatening to starve a province of South Africa: this is the most visible record of the chaos following the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma, who turned himself over to police in connection with corruption investigations.

Read also South Africa: violence left more than 117 dead, relative calm in Johannesburg

Beneath the surface emerges another toll, as the state is struggling to regain control of the situation after an endless week of hesitation. Something fundamental is happening in the country of Nelson Mandela, whose spirit now seems quite absent. Perhaps the idealism of the times which followed the advent of multiracial democracy in 1994, carried by a set of clichés including that of the “rainbow nation”, has gone up in smoke in recent days, in the sacking of shopping centers.

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The bases of the country, as we knew, are fragile. Inequalities, among the strongest in the world, hamper the future. Massive unemployment has been further compounded by the devastation that the Covid-19 pandemic, a third wave of which is currently hitting the country, has inflicted on all sectors of the economy except the funeral directors. But poverty and despair do not explain everything. Seven provinces out of nine, moreover, yet in comparable situations, have not been set ablaze by the Dantesque looting of parts of the country where ex-President Zuma has supporters.

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Untenable situation

The government, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, says it is dealing with a large-scale clandestine destabilization operation. So here is South Africa, the country where democracy triumphed thirty years ago, the country which made the collective choice of peace and the political path at the time when apartheid was collapsing, threatened with a maddening drift.

Distraught, part of the South African population is also distraught. That of residential neighborhoods, whose standard of living has improved considerably over the past thirty years, while the poorest sank further into misery. This situation, which everyone in South Africa readily acknowledges, is untenable in the medium and long term. But nothing has changed.

However, the warnings were not lacking: since the 2000s, at more or less regular intervals, so-called “xenophobic” violence has erupted, directed towards communities of foreigners who live in contact with the most modest. This violence, which killed more than 500 people, raised reprobation, but also and above all spared large residential areas. Today, for the first time, the inhabitants of “Suburbs” feel threatened. Not directly by the looting, but by the speech which designates the looters as the hard core of the pro-Zuma.

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Among the loyalists of the former president, populists are ready to do anything to seize power or reconquer it. South Africa, an exceptional country, has lived with this threat, this violence, this hate speech, as if all this should never escape the bottle of poor neighborhoods. Here, now, the evil genius out. If the country overcomes this perilous pass, it will have to reform itself, deeply, study the means of redistributing wealth and tackle, head-on, the question of land, one of the measures that would make it possible to repair past injustices and rebuild a common future.

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