Jon Cardinelli explains the tumultuous political situation in South Africa at the moment

Riots in South Africa add tension to Lions tour

These are dark times for South Africa. State president Cyril Ramaphosa spelled this out in no uncertain terms when he addressed the nation – not once, but twice – earlier this week.

On Sunday night, Ramaphosa spoke at length about the Covid-19 crisis and reiterated the need for extreme lockdown measures. On Monday, he denounced the violent protests that are laying waste to parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

“Over the past few days and nights, there have been acts of public violence of a kind rarely seen in the history of our democracy,” Ramaphosa said.

“Property has been vandalised and destroyed. Shops have been looted. Law-abiding citizens have been threatened and intimidated. Workers are scared that they may not be able to return to work.

“People have died.”  

While Ramaphosa didn’t mention Jacob Zuma’s name, it’s believed that much of the widespread violence and looting is a direct response to the former state president’s incarceration. Zuma – ousted by his own party in 2018 – faced multiple corruption charges but was ultimately jailed for contempt of court.

Riots in South Africa

Cyril Ramaphosa at Rugby World Cup 2019 (Getty Images)

Ramaphosa deployed 2,500 troops from the South African National Defence on Tuesday in an attempt to curb the violence as well as the damage to property. By Tuesday evening, however, various businesses had reported significant financial losses as a result of damage or theft.

As the death and injury tolls continue to climb, many in the country are asking whether the president should declare a state of emergency.

This is the backdrop for the highly-anticipated series between the British & Irish Lions and the Springboks.

The Lions 2021 recently completed their three preliminary games in Gauteng. They have moved down to the Western Cape for matches against South Africa A on Wednesday, the Stormers on Saturday, and the Boks on 24 July. The Boks have also relocated to Cape Town.

There’s been talk about moving the last two Tests of the series from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The Mother City is yet to be hit by a third wave of Covid-19 infections. While there have been some isolated incidents and “attempted lootings” in recent days, the local government insists that the situation is “well under control”. Nevertheless, the city is currently putting precautionary measures into place.

Related: Could Lions venue change boost chances of victory?

The Boks as well as the Lions have experienced a host of setbacks since the beginning of this Test window. Individual players and coaches on both sides of the divide have tested positive for Covid-19. This has led to the rescheduling of several fixtures and even to the cancellation of the second Test between the Boks and Georgia.

The pressure to perform in a series of this magnitude – which takes place once every 12 years in South Africa – is immense. The Covid-19 situation in the country as well as the unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal will only add to the stress.

Riots in South Africa

The Springboks’ preparations have been severely disrupted (Getty Images)

While both teams are safe in their respective bubbles, they are all too well aware of what’s happening in the outside world. The Boks in particular cannot ignore the impact that current events might have on family and friends in various parts of the country.

 When the team was asked to comment on the situation on Tuesday, assistant coach Mzwandile Stick promised that the Boks would do everything in their power to lift the spirits of the nation.

“We are are living in a very sad time,” he said. “That’s one of the main reasons why we are so determined to perform; we just want to put a smile on people’s faces. We just want to give them some hope.

“I’ll never forget what we saw on the streets after we won the World Cup,” Stick added. After the Boks returned from the 2019 tournament in Japan, they set out on an open bus tour around the country.

“It was great to see all races coming together and everyone speaking one language, which is the language of rugby. Those are the moments we want to create again, that’s the kind of hope we want to give people.

“Getting the chance to play against the Lions, and to put a smile on people’s faces is something we don’t take lightly. This is a chance to spread some positive energy, to show everyone around the country that anything is possible when we come together. 

Riots in South Africa

Mzwandile Stick and Rassie Erasmus (Getty Images)

“Hopefully that will get people to unite behind the team. Hopefully (what is happening around the country) will stop soon. We need some good news as South Africans.”

Earlier in the week, South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said that he was confident that the Test series would be completed despite the threat of further Covid-19 disruptions.

As he said: “I don’t think the series is losing credibility because both sides have been disrupted. It will be the Lions’ best team next Saturday against the Springboks’ best team, and that will be something special.”

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