Rioters undeterred by army wreak havoc in S. African cities

People flee from the Springfiled Park Mall in Durban on July 12, 2021. (STRINGER / AFP)

Deadly protests that erupted in South Africa following former President Jacob Zuma’s jailing showed no signs of letting up, even as the authorities pledged to clamp down on the violence and the army was deployed to help the police keep it in check.

Hundreds of stores in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, which account for about half the nation’s economic output, were looted and major highways have been blocked. The government says 10 people have died. KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala put the toll at 26 in his province alone and his Gauteng counterpart David Makhura said there’d been 19 fatalities in his jurisdiction, including 10 that occurred during a stampede.

Rioting continued on Tuesday in several Gauteng townships, including Alexandra, Diepsloot, Vosloorus and Mamelodi, although calm prevailed in Johannesburg’s city center, which bore the brunt of the violence on Monday

Rioting continued on Tuesday in several Gauteng townships, including Alexandra, Diepsloot, Vosloorus and Mamelodi, although calm prevailed in Johannesburg’s city center, which bore the brunt of the violence on Monday.

Broadcaster eNCA screened live pictures of a mob looting a warehouse complex near the eastern port city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday, and violence prompted the provincial health department to halt its coronavirus vaccination program. Stores were also targeted in East London in the Eastern Cape province, although demonstrations there weren’t as bad as other areas, its acting spokesman Mxolisi Spondo said by phone.

ALSO READ: S. Africa deploys army to quell unrest linked to Zuma jailing

“Yes, the situation looks like it’s out of hand, yes, people are in a state of panic,” Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters in Pretoria, the capital. “We are all concerned about what is happening.”

Police Minister Bheki Cele said 304 people had been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal and another 453 in Gauteng, and additional personnel had been sent to protest hot-spots.

“We cannot allow anyone to make a mockery of our democratic state and we have instructed the law enforcement agencies to double their efforts to stop the violence and to increase deployment on the ground,” he said.

While the turmoil was triggered by Zuma’s incarceration following his conviction on contempt of court charges, the government says criminal elements are exploiting the instability to enrich themselves. Allegations that former members of the intelligence agencies with links to Zuma were instigating the violence are still being investigated, State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said.

The unrest has dented business confidence and unnerved investors. The rand fell as much as 1.4 percent against the dollar to 14.5994 on Tuesday, the lowest level since April 9, after declining 1.3 percent on Monday.

Vaccinations Disrupted

President Cyril Ramaphosa warned in a televised address Monday night that the turmoil posed a threat to food security and was disrupting efforts to issue coronavirus vaccines.

The country dispensed 146,577 COVID-19 shots in the 24 hours to 5 pm local time on Monday, compared with more than 191,000 late last week, according to the health department. All inoculations in KwaZulu-Natal have halted until further notice, with some administration sites having been destroyed and looted, the Independent Community Pharmacy Association said in a statement.

The country’s four biggest banks closed branches in violence-hit areas, fuel and chemical producer Sasol Ltd said its road and rail deliveries had been disrupted, and retailers and telecommunications companies shut outlets. Local newspapers carried reports of people loading up shopping carts and vehicles with stolen food, alcohol and televisions, and pictures of trashed shops with their shelves stripped bare.

“Zuma’s imprisonment was the spark that ignited the protests, but underlying issues such as rampant unemployment, widespread inequality and discontent with COVID-19 related restrictions are the powder keg,” said Aleix Montana, Africa Analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft. “We expect civil unrest to continue to intensify during the next days.”

READ MORE: South African court rules Zuma must testify at graft inquiry