Former South African president Jacob Zuma attended his brother’s funeral on Thursday following his temporary release from prison – just two weeks after his incarceration for being in contempt of court.
There had been fears Mr Zuma’s release from the Estcourt Correctional Centre would reignite the deadly unrest that gripped the country earlier this month, but the service in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province passed off without incident.
Mr Zuma’s supporters had vowed – but failed – to stop the authorities from arresting him in the run-up to his incarceration for 15 months on July 8th for refusing a constitutional court order to attend a corruption inquiry.
However, violence and mass looting erupted in Gauteng and KZN provinces after he handed himself over to police, and the government was forced to deploy the army to bring both regions under control.
Although calm had been restored by last Friday, there were concerns that releasing Mr Zuma (79) to attend his brother Michael’s funeral at his rural home in Nkandla might prompt his supporters to descend on the area to stop his return to jail.
The authorities appeared to be taking the potential security threat seriously, as they positioned armed police and soldiers within a few kilometres of Mr Zuma’s home during the funeral.
Department of Correctional Services spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo said that because Mr Zuma was classified as a “short-term low-risk” inmate, it had granted his request to be present at his younger sibling’s funeral.
South Africa’s fourth post-apartheid president was due to return to prison after the service ended. Michael Zuma (77) died on July 11th following a long illness, according to local media.
As South Africa has sought to get to the bottom of the unrest, president Cyril Ramaphosa has accused the instigators of trying to launch an insurrection against the state, saying the looting and violence was a “smokescreen” for their deliberate sabotage.
Members of his government have also blamed former intelligence operatives and some of Mr Zuma’s supporters in the ruling African National Congress party for sparking the initial wave of looting and violence, which quickly spiralled out of control.
At least 337 people died in the mayhem that erupted after Mr Zuma was jailed, officials said on Thursday. Many of the deaths are now being investigated for murder.
Even though the unrest has abated, there are concerns that those responsible for it might have more plans to destabilise the country.
The online news outlet Media24 reported on Thursday that the police force had recently been placed on high alert nationwide after the government received intelligence that the saboteurs planned to attack vulnerable stations in KZN to steal guns and ammunition.
So far six people have been charged for inciting public violence related to the unrest. However, questions are now being asked about why they are not facing more serious charges if the state believes what transpired was a planned insurrection.
The National Prosecuting Authority’s special director of public prosecutions, Mthunzi Mhaga, confirmed on Thursday he had yet to receive evidence that would support charges of crimes against the state or treason or sedition.