Posted on April 21, 2020

Virus Triggers African Unrest: Riots Break Out in Johannesburg over Food Shortages

James Gant, Daily Mail, April 19, 2020

Unrest has spread across Africa, with riots over food shortages and an army being deployed to ‘restore order’ as the coronavirus crisis rocks the continent.

Protests have erupted in Cape Town, the military have been mobilised in Lesotho and the chief of staff to the Nigerian government died of the lethal bug.

Africa now has more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday.

A total of 52 of Africa’s 54 countries have reported cases of the deadly virus, with the overall number of cases more than 19,800.

In Cape Town people have broken into tuck shops and attacked each other and police because they are hungry, one resident claimed.

Joanie Fredericks, a community leader in Mitchells Plain township in Cape Town, said in a viral clip: ‘Mr President we are in the middle of a food crisis. It’s war out here.’

The desperate plea was made in a video posted on social media to President Cyril Ramaphosa who imposed a five-week lockdown to try curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Four weeks into a 35-day shut down poor communities are facing food shortages as incomes for mostly informal workers have dried up.

Imposed from March 27, the lockdown has placed already cash-strapped citizens under further strain.

The numbers of people lining up for food at the self-funded scheme run by Fredericks and other volunteers are growing by the day.

‘When we started out feeding people we started out with the very vulnerable, …the children, the disabled people and the pensioners.

‘But we are way past that Mr President, we are past the stage of sending people away,’ an emotional Fredericks pleaded.

Already, several violent protests have broken out across the country over access to food parcels handed out by authorities.

Hundreds of angry people fought running battles with the police, hurling rocks and setting up street barricades with burning tyres in Mitchells Plain over undelivered food parcels on Tuesday.

Police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse them. Social commentators fear such violent episodes could escalate.

‘There’s a bunch of us at home getting fat and there’s a bunch of people who really have nothing,’ said Julian May, director of the Centre of Excellence in Food Security, at the University of the Western Cape.

‘And it speaks a lot about the inequalities in South Africa (that) are likely to come out,’ said May.

‘As people are not getting food parcels or hear of other people getting parcels they are starting to react. And I don’t think that’s going to ease unless there’s more rapid delivery of food to people in poor areas.’

Lesotho’s embattled prime minister announced on Saturday he had sent troops on to the streets to ‘restore order’, accusing unnamed law enforcement agencies of undermining democracy.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is under pressure to step down after police said they suspect him of having a hand in the murder of his estranged wife in 2017, a case that has thrown the country into political turmoil.

In an address on public television, 80-year-old Thabane said he had ‘deployed the army to take control of this situation and take necessary measures against these elements in alignment with the security orders and restore peace and order’.

‘This is to avoid putting the nation in danger,’ he said.

A highly placed government source said police commissioner Holomo Molibeli, his deputy Paseka Mokete and another senior police officer have been arrested by the army.

‘The general informed the prime minister that he has arrested Holomo, Mokete… They are temporarily detained at Makoanyane Barracks,’ the source told AFP in the capital Maseru.

There was a heavy presence of armed soldiers, in bulletproof vests and helmets, patrolling the streets. Other soldiers drove around Maseru in armoured cars.

The premier said he was ‘surprised’ that some ‘institutions entrusted with maintaining order and adhering to law are busy tarnishing the very principles’ of the country’s stability and democracy.

He said the army would also help enforce a 24-day coronavirus lockdown in the country, which has so far not recorded a single case.

Nigeria’s government said Abba Kyari, chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, died Friday of COVID-19. ‘May God accept his soul,’ the statement said.

Kyari’s case had been one of the highest-profile in Africa. Several government ministers and a U.S. ambassador were infected with the virus earlier in Burkina Faso.

The World Health Organization on Friday noted a 51 per cent increase in cases in Africa and a 60 per cent jump in deaths in the past week. But the WHO chief warned that because of a shortage of testing ‘it’s likely the real numbers are higher than reported.’

The Africa CDC has said more than 1 million test kits will be rolled out starting next week.

Zimbabwe on Saturday celebrated the 40th anniversary of its independence, but without the traditional pomp and nationwide rallies because of a coronavirus lockdown.

In an address on national television, President Emmerson Mnangagwa voiced optimism about containing the spread of the virus in a country that has officially reported only 24 cases.

‘We celebrate our milestone 40th anniversary in the context of unprecedented times, that of the pandemic,’ Mnangagwa said, noting that the virus had scuttled plans to host celebrations for the first time in the second city of Bulawayo.

Zimbabwe usually commemorates its independence from British colonial rule with rallies across the country’s 10 provinces with the main event held in a 60,000-seater stadium in the capital Harare.

Celebrations include martial displays, acrobatics and live music performances.

‘However, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is seeing us endure a necessary lockdown in our homes,’ Mnangagwa said, imploring Zimbabweans to stay at home, practise social-distancing and regularly wash hands.

‘That way we celebrate our independence by saving lives and our economy.’

Mnangagwa, who imposed a three-week lockdown which lapses on Sunday, thanked citizens and donor countries ‘for the collective response’ in trying to fighting the pandemic.

‘May this national character continue to grow and flourish,’ he added.

Mnangagwa said his government would not go back on controversial land reforms launched by his predecessor Robert Mugabe to seize white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

He said the land reform programme remains a fundamental ‘cog to our independence and sovereignty’.

‘The land shall remain united with the people and the people to their land. To this there is no wavering or going back. However we shall not shy away from fine-tuning our strategies to enhance land utilisation, equitable access and productivity,’ he said.

Meanwhile he commended the European Union for relaxing sanctions imposed on members of the ruling elite and institutions with links to the ruling ZANU-PF party.

‘I implore Washington to promptly lift the illegal sanctions against us without any preconditions,’ Mnangagwa said.