Over the past few weeks, riots and protests have broken out in South Africa and have resulted in stores, trucks, and warehouses being raided and burned. Many people are facing starvation with little to no access to food. While the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has promised “immediate food relief,” few people have received anything. Local leaders and restaurants have joined together to help people get enough food to survive until government help arrives. However, there is little faith amongst people that relief will arrive anytime soon.
The current protests and riots have not been tied to one specific issue and the reasons of many participants range from political rivalries and economic inequality to historic cultural divides. One recurring theme amongst participants is government failure. These riots started as demonstrations over the arrest of the former president, Jacob Zuma. Zuma and his administration currently face several corruption charges related to past weapons deals. His time as president saw over 3 million more South Africans fall below the poverty line and hunger and malnourishment rates nearly doubled. Currently, more than half of the 58 million people living in South Africa live below the poverty line. Additionally, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, about 3.8 million people living in the country are without food. Inadequate nutrition has also resulted in nearly a quarter of children falling behind in physical growth and mental development. Entire generations are struggling to survive because the previous and current administrations failed to maintain adequate agriculture infrastructure to keep the food industry running smoothly and failed to create and maintain social programs to help keep people out of poverty.
According to the Financial Times Africa Summit in London in 2019, Zuma’s time in office cost the country’s economy more than $35 billion, about one-tenth of the country’s overall gross domestic product. The people most impacted by the corruption were the poorest South Africans. Today, they are once again impacted the most during the aftermath of the riots. Without pre-stocked pantries or reliable transportation, people can’t get to stores or anywhere outside of walking distance and they are forced to rely on donations and volunteer food pantries. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have shut down either permanently or temporarily, meaning many people do not have the money or resources to buy supplies for themselves and others. Aid groups, like Muslims for Humanity and Umgibe Farming Organics, are helping people obtain necessities, and food businesses are redistributing products they can’t export because of port closures. Unfortunately, no long-term solution is in place yet and millions of people will continue to suffer until the government acts.
The South African government owes its people proper assistance after nearly a decade of Zuma’s administration failing to support the people and taking money out of the country’s economy. The government should create programs available to everyone, not only certain people, as was the case with past programs, to give people money to buy food and necessities. The government could also work with the businesses already redistributing their products and create a nationwide program to help people who do not have access to aid groups or businesses that are redistributing goods. Overall, the government needs to take action, they said there would be food relief but the shortages have been going on for almost a month and no aid has arrived. There needs to be more transparency and more effort put into helping people for any long-term solution to work. Millions of people currently face malnutrition and starvation and will continue to if food relief does not arrive soon, and with rising political tensions, it is essential the government acts quickly if they want to avoid further unrest.