Africa: Potent Brew That Led to South Africa’s Urban Uprising – Pandemic, Recession and a Crisis of Social Reproduction


In the discourse on the recent uprising of the impoverished, consideration of the inequality deepening the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is largely absent. The exacerbation of already unsustainable levels of inequality by the pandemic coupled with a global recession provided the volatile ingredients. Jacob Zuma was just the trigger.

With rare exception, the popular media has often reduced the past few weeks of unrest to sensationalist reportage. Describing the unrest events as “insurrection”, “civil war”, “anarchy” and “riot” risks eclipsing the full picture of 21st-century urban uprisings, of which this is an example.

I use the term “urban uprising” to describe a moment of rapid collective action in an urban context, which may include violence, looting and torching. The South African uprising was much more than Zuma’s imprisonment, which was the trigger for an uprising against poverty and inequality, not its cause. For the uprising’s cause, we need to look deeper.

South Africa, like many other countries, was in recession when the pandemic struck, forcing the Great Global Lockdown. The immediate human and economic cost of Covid-19 was severe, accentuating the disparities in inequality and societal fragmentation. This was evidenced in the problems experienced by the impoverished in relation…



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