Death toll in unrest climbs to 45 after Soweto looting stampede

As large-scale pillaging erupted in the economic capital of Johannesburg and southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, the crisis burst into the political arena, where South Africa's main opposition accused radicals of stoking the unrest.

Rioters loot the Jabulani Mall in Soweto on 12 July 2021. South Africa's army said Monday it was deploying troops to two provinces, including its economic hub of Johannesburg, to help police tackle deadly violence and looting as unrest sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma entered its fourth day. Picture: Luca Sola/AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Stores and warehouses in South Africa were hit by looters on Tuesday for a fifth day running despite a move by President Cyril Ramaphosa to deploy troops in a bid to quell unrest that has claimed 45 lives.

As large-scale pillaging erupted in the economic capital of Johannesburg and southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, the crisis burst into the political arena, where South Africa's main opposition accused radicals of stoking the unrest.

The armed forces said they were sending 2,500 soldiers to help the police, who have been utterly overwhelmed.

But these numbers compare with the more than 70,000 troops deployed to enforce last year's coronavirus lockdown, and only handful of soldiers were seen at some shopping centres.

The raging unrest first erupted last Friday after former president Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month term for contempt after snubbing a probe into the corruption that stained his nine years in power.

By the weekend it started spreading to Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, where 10 bodies were found late Monday at a looted shopping centre in Soweto, on the city's outskirts.

Provincial premier David Makhura said the police, whose station is located just across from the mall, "discovered in the evening that 10 people died during (a) stampede".

The death toll for Gauteng stood at 19 deaths, he said.

Earlier, Sihle Zikalala, premier of KZN said 26 people there had died, some "killed during stampedes as protesters ran riot".

CASUAL LOOTING

TV footage showed dozens of women, some wearing their dressing gowns, men and even children strolling into a butcher's cold store in Soweto, coming out balancing heavy boxes of frozen meat on their shoulders or heads.

A sole private security guard stood by helplessly, frantically trying to make calls.

Police showed up three hours later, and fired rubber bullets. They were followed much later by soldiers.

In Alexandra township north of Johannesburg, hundreds of people streamed in and out of a shopping mall, freely picking up groceries.

Gauteng has been hit by large-scale riots and looting. Eyewitness News pinpoints the areas that have been affected. Picture: Eyewitness News

Other images showed a warehouse being looted in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal's capital.

People hauled boxed refrigerators through bushes to a long line of cars that were parked along a highway.

In Durban, aerial footage showed hundreds of people looting a large shopping centre and carting off huge boxes of goods.

At least 757 people have been arrested, Police Minister Bheki Cele told a news conference.

'ANARCHY'

In his nationwide address Monday night, Ramaphosa lashed "opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft."

"The path of violence, of looting and anarchy, leads only to more violence and devastation," Ramaphosa said.

But the crisis took a political twist on Tuesday as the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, announced it would file criminal charges on Wednesday against Zuma's children and the leader of the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema.

In a statement, the party accused them of using "social media to express comments which appear to encourage and incite the violence and looting."

Once dubbed the "Teflon president," Zuma was handed the jail term on 29 June by the Constitutional Court for bucking an order to appear before a commission probing the graft that proliferated under his nine years in power.

He started serving the jail term on Thursday after handing himself in to authorities as a deadline for surrender loomed.

He is seeking to have the ruling set aside. The Constitutional Court has reserved its judgment on his application to rescind its ruling.

ZUMA POPULARITY

Zuma, 79, is a former anti-apartheid fighter who spent 10 years in jail in the notorious Robben Island jail off Cape Town.

He rose in democratic South Africa to vice president and then president, before being ousted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in 2018 as graft scandals proliferated.

But he remains popular among many poor South Africans, especially grassroots members of the ANC, who portray him as a defender of the disadvantaged.

South Africa, Africa's most industrialised country, is deep in an economic malaise, with cripplingly high levels of unemployment. Economic activity has been badly affected by restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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