Protests in South Africa have exploded into violence, with widespread looting. Now the army has been deployed as the chaos grows.
Troops have been deployed in South Africa after at least 45 people were killed in rioting and deadly stampedes sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma.
The violence was triggered by the jailing of Zuma, 79, for defying a constitutional court order to give evidence at an inquiry probing high-level corruption during his nine years in office until 2018.
Police said violence and looting had intensified as Zuma challenged his 15-month prison term in the country’s top court. The judgment in the case has been reserved.
But while the protests initially began from supporters of the former leader, the situation has evolved into a general outpouring of anger over persistent poverty and inequality in South Africa, 27 years after the end of Apartheid.
Up to 45 people have been killed during the unrest, according to reports.
A total of 19 people were killed in Gauteng and 26 in KwaZulu-Natal after stampedes as residents raced for supplies while looters ransacked stores, skipping over the bodies left strewn in the streets.
Almost 800 people have now been arrested since the insurgence began last Thursday.
Police Minister Bheki Cele warned today that if looting continued, there was a risk places could run out of basic food supplies.
He also said another 12 people are being investigated for inciting violence.
The pro-Zuma protests have mainly been centred in the former leader’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), where buildings now burn and items from burgled shops lay strewn on the roadside.
Troops were moving in to flashpoints today as outnumbered police seemed helpless to prevent attacks and looting on businesses in KwaZulu-Natal and the Gauteng province, where the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg, is located.
Livestock has even been stolen by raiders in KwaZulu-Natal.
Columns of armoured personnel carriers rolled down highways after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa slammed the rebellion as some of the worst violence the country has seen since the 1990s.
He said: “What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft.”
Covid jab drive under threat
Mr Ramaphosa said: “We will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute those who perpetrate these actions and will ensure that they face the full might of our law.”
He warned that the looting of shopping centres, pharmacies and disruption to supply chains could lead to food and medicine shortages in the coming weeks, as well as disruption to thevaccination drive.
A statement from the military said “pre-deployment processes had started” following a request for assistance from a government intelligence body.
But a Reuters news agency cameraman in Pietermaritzburg saw armed soldiers already in the streets.
Violent scenes have been branded “warlike” by a doctor in KwaZulu-Natal, where most demonstrations have been held.
On Monday, a shopping centre was burned and looted, with riots now spreading into neighbouring Gauteng and Johannesburg.
Police have resorted to using rubber bullets to control violence, with dozens struck – including a six-month-old baby girl who was shot in the head.
Dr Suhayl Essa said his clinic has become overwhelmed with patients and slammed scenes as “a glimpse into hell” – with the military now urgently called in to control the crowds.
“We were in war mode, dealing with the sickest and helping those who could be saved.
“There was a six-month-old baby who was shot in the head with a rubber bullet.
“The mother was on the road trying to get home, and she was shot at.”
According to Dr Essa, countless people have also been stabbed since riots broke out in “xenophobic” attacks.
“Because of how many people were stabbed in the chest, we had run out of chest drains,” he said.
“It felt like war. We were listening to gunshots and screams, and then people were running in for help.”
A chemical plant near Umhlanga, a town north of Durban, was also set on fire by protesters, emergency services said.
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