Police officers argue with members of the community. Image Credit: AFP

For almost the past two weeks, communities and cities across South Africa have been convulsed by street violence and widespread protests that have followed the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.

Zuma, who served between 2009 and 2018, has refused to cooperate with a judicial commission investigating widespread claims of corruption during his terms of office. He was ordered jailed for contempt and turned himself into authorities, sparking the protests among his many supporters.

Zuma was the first from the majority Zulu ethnic group to become president of the Rainbow Nation — and the extent of those protests underscore his popularity in that group.

But a man is not bigger than a nation. And one man alone cannot undermine the nation’s authority by refusing to cooperate with a properly assembled judicial inquiry.

As a former president and head of state, Zuma should have full understanding of governmental authority — and how his actions might seriously undermine the function of a democratic government.

Indeed, prior to 1994, South Africa was a nation that cared little for the values of equality, placing one element of society above others. Its freedom was hard earned.

So far, more than a hundred people have died in these protests. The government is turning to its armed forces to reimpose order and this chapter in its history marks a sad departure from the first days of hope and optimism shared by South Africans as they embraced a new future together — as equals.

For the past three years, the judicial commission has attempted to fully investigate the allegations of systemic corruption that were associated with Zuma’s rule.

Coming to terms with the past is an important part of healing, just as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission helped heal the wounds and right the wrongs of the apartheid era.

South Africa has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, its official unemployment rate has touched 32 per cent and its economic travails are deep and endemic.

For things to improve, South Africa must unite behind leaders with a strategic vision and plan. That means creating jobs, maximising the potential of its resources and people, creating sustainable tourism and growth — and getting its house in order.

The generation of freedom fighters who ended apartheid did so in the belief that their new nation would be better, that justice would prevail, that equality would be enshrined in the actions and principles of government. Good governance is not determined by one man.