In a significant legal development, a South African court has handed down a 12-year prison sentence to Mdumiseni Zuma, a former security guard, for his role in inciting deadly riots during the 2021 unrest triggered by the arrest of ex-President Jacob Zuma. This marks the first conviction related to the widespread violence that gripped the nation last year.
While not related to the former president, Mdumiseni Zuma shared a video encouraging people to loot and burn a shopping mall, contributing to the chaos that ensued. The 2021 unrest, the most severe since the end of apartheid in 1994, resulted in the loss of at least 350 lives and extensive damage.
President Cyril Ramaphosa labeled the events as an “attempted insurrection,” and the violence initially erupted in Jacob Zuma’s stronghold in KwaZulu-Natal, later spreading to Gauteng, the economic heartland. Over 200 shopping malls were looted, and more than 150,000 jobs were estimated to have been lost during the unrest that persisted for several days.
Mdumiseni Zuma, working as a security guard during the riots, faced accusations of recording and disseminating an inflammatory video, inciting an attack on the mall. Despite defending the video as a “drunk prank,” the court dismissed his explanation. Magistrate Morné Cannon held Zuma accountable for the video’s consequences, emphasizing the loss of lives and livelihoods resulting from the Brookside Mall being set ablaze.
While Zuma did not actively participate in the physical attack, the court’s decision sends a message about accountability for actions that fuelled the unrest. The legal process is ongoing, with 65 additional suspects scheduled to appear in court in January in connection with the 2021 riots.
Jacob Zuma, who served as president for nine years, faced corruption allegations throughout his term. Although he resigned in 2018, he continued to be a controversial figure. His refusal to cooperate with a corruption inquiry led to his imprisonment, yet he was released on medical parole after just two months into his 15-month sentence, further fueling debates about justice and accountability.