South Africa unrest; death toll rises, more arrested

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

Ugly scenes of violence, looting and damage to property that are prevailing in South Africa in the wake of former President Jacob Zuma’s arrest have claimed over 32 lives.

26 people are said to have died so far during this unrest in South Africa in the province of KwaZulu Natal alone. The other 6 deaths coming from Gauteng province.

According to a provincial official from this province , taking the national death toll from days of violence to 32.

The toll in KwaZulu-Natal province now stands at 26, premier Sihle Zikalala told a news conference this morning, a day after officials confirmed six deaths in Gauteng province.

South Africa’s president deployed troops yesterday to help police quell the violence and looting sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma.

In a televised speech last night President Cyril Ramaphosa, Mr. Zuma’s successor, said,

“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, read out the names of those who died in the unrest. As television stations broadcast the president’s speech, some carried split screens showing the continuing looting outside.

Most of the media houses including the national broadcaster (SABC) had initially tried to down play the seriousness of the unrest in the country. Nonetheless, reality reached them as citizens posted most of the violence and the extent of the destruction to property on social media platforms.

Soldiers were sent onto the streets of the country’s two most densely populated provinces of Gauteng, which houses the country’s economic hub Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province.

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Experts say the timing of Zuma’s arrest was unfortunate and came at a time when large parts of the population were already stressed and stretched by the lockdown restrictions.

This may have lead to the rampant looting and display of violence and criminality at levels never been witnessed in South Africa before. The destruction of property already into millions of Rands.

At a time of a global pandemic this further puts a strain on most business and may be difficult for many of these businesses to bounce back.

Last month, the country’s top court imposed a 15-month term on Zuma for snubbing a probe into the corruption that stained his nine years in power.

Zuma began the sentence last Thursday but is seeking to have the ruling set aside.

The centre of the unrest is Zuma’s home region, the south-eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. In its capital Pietermaritzburg smoke billowed from the roof of a large shopping mall. Banks, shops and fuel stations in the city were shut.

Retail shops in Durban and Johannesburg were ransacked yesterday while police watched.

A police helicopter hovered over the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto, where looters made off with giant TV sets, microwave ovens, clothes and linen, for hours.

Meanwhile, in the splash neighbourhoods predominantly white areas. The residents have taken to setting up their own defence (militias). They are arming themselves and standing guard to protect their communities from looters.

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