What Jacob Zuma’s Arrest Means for South Africa’s Rule of Law and Rising Economic Inequality

Creating economic opportunities for the country’s poor and working classes and strengthening the rule of law to fight corruption are vital for the nation’s future progress and stability

Former South Africa president Jacob Zuma was arrested on July 7th for ‘contempt of court’ after failing to appear before a court in Kwazulu-Natal province. Zuma, 79, has been battling a series of corruption charges of which the prosecution called ‘state capture’. The charges stem from Zuma’s dealings with the powerful Gupta family while in office.

The trial has tested the rule of law in South Africa to its limits. Many of the nation’s anti-apartheid figures have been implicated in corruption charges. Zuma, himself an ex-apartheid fighter, rose to his controversial presidency on the back of such credentials. His administration was largely seen as either corrupt or undermining institutions that could promote accountability and fight official corruption.

As soon as Zuma stepped in jail, violence broke out across the nation, particularly in the Kwazulu-Natal region where he is believed to be popular. The massive looting and total breakdown of law enforcement surprised the nation as pictures of looters ransacking shops and stores surfaced, with the police helplessly watching them.

South Africa was repeatedly called the ‘most unequal nation on earth’ according to several world reports with most of the inequality largely based along racial lines. South Africa’s white minority enjoys a superior living standard than most black majority populations. While South Africa was spared from political crisis and economic collapse mainly due to the exceptional leadership of Nelson Mandela, the country struggles with the impact of apartheid-created poverty among black South Africans.

The South African political leadership needs to simultaneously strengthen the rule of law to combat corruption and at the same time strive to realise a more equal and fairer society. Independent judiciary and prosecutorial authority are vital for combatting corruption. Creating economic opportunities for the country’s poor and working classes is crucial for the nation’s future progress and stability.

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