Stores and warehouses in South Africa were hit by looters Tuesday for a fifth day running despite the troops President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed to try to quell unrest that has so far claimed 72 lives.
More than 1,200 people have been arrested in the lawlessness that has raged in poor areas of two provinces, where a community radio station was ransacked and forced off the air Tuesday and some COVID-19 vaccination centers were closed, disrupting urgently needed inoculations.
Many of the deaths in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces occurred in chaotic stampedes as thousands of people stole food, electric appliances, liquor, and clothing from stores, police Maj. Gen. Mathapelo Peters said in a statement Tuesday night.
According to Gen Mathapelo, 27 deaths were being investigated in KwaZulu-Natal province and 45 in Gauteng province. He further said that police were investigating deaths caused by explosions when people tried to break into ATM machines, as well as other fatalities caused by shootings.
The violence broke out after former president Jacob Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court on Thursday. He had refused to comply with a court order to testify at a state-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.
The unrest spiraled into a spree of looting in township areas of the two provinces, although it has not spread to South Africa’s other seven provinces, where police are on alert.
“The criminal element has hijacked this situation,” said Premier David Makhura of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg.
Meanwhile, according to a statement by the South African presidency, President Cyril Ramaphosa has embarked on a round of consultations with the leadership of different sectors of society to develop a society-wide response to the violence and destruction affecting many parts of the country.