JOHANNESBURG – The death toll rose to 72 following riots in South Africa on Tuesday, with many people trampled to death during looting of shops, as police and military fired stun grenades and bullets in rubber in an attempt to end the unrest sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
More than 1,200 people were arrested in the lawlessness that raged in poor areas of two provinces, where a community radio station was ransacked and forced to shut down on Tuesday and some COVID-19 vaccination centers were closed, disrupting urgent vaccinations.
Numerous deaths in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces have come in chaotic scrambles as thousands steal food, electrical appliances, alcohol and clothing from stores, said Tuesday evening Police General Mathapelo Peters in a statement.
He said 27 deaths were under investigation in KwaZulu-Natal province and 45 in Gauteng province. In addition to those run over, he said police were investigating deaths caused by explosions when people tried to break into ATMs, as well as other deaths caused by gunfire.
The protests began Thursday with the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma
Violence erupted after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court on Thursday. He had refused to comply with a court order to testify in a state-backed investigation investigating corruption allegations while he was president from 2009 to 2018.
The unrest escalated into a wave of looting in the townships of the two provinces, although it has not spread to the other seven provinces of South Africa, where police are on alert.
“The criminal element has hijacked this situation,” said Prime Minister David Makhura of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg.
More than half of South Africa’s 60 million people live in poverty, with an unemployment rate of 32%, according to official statistics. The pandemic, with layoffs and an economic downturn, has heightened hunger and desperation that have helped propel the protests sparked by Zuma’s arrest into wider riots.
“We understand that the unemployed have insufficient food. We understand that the situation has been made worse by the pandemic,” an emotional Makhura told the South African Broadcasting Corp. “But this looting is undermining our businesses here (in Soweto). It is undermining our economy, our community. It is undermining everything.”
As he spoke, the show showed police officers trying to restore order in the Ndofaya shopping center, where 10 people were crushed to death in a looting stampede. Gunshots could be heard in the background.
Makhura called on leaders of political, religious and community organizations to urge the population to end the unrest.
More than 1,200 people arrested in looting
The deployment of 2,500 troops to support South African police has so far failed to stop the widespread looting, although arrests have been made in parts of Johannesburg, including Vosloorus in the eastern part of the country. city.
At least 1,234 people were arrested in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, authorities said, but the situation was far from under control.
Looting continued Tuesday in shopping malls in the townships of Johannesburg, including Jabulani and Dobsonville shopping centers in Soweto. Looting has also been reported in KwaZulu-Natal.
In Daveyton Township, east of Johannesburg, more than 100 people, including women, children and older citizens, have been arrested for theft from shops inside the Mayfair Square shopping center.
Some of those arrested were bleeding from broken glass on slippery floors from spilled milk, alcohol, yogurt and cleaning fluids that had been stolen from stores.
Fighting continued as security, and police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to repel rioters, who were entering stores through delivery entrances, fire exits and climbing rooftops. .
Bongani Mokoena, an employee of an auto supply store, said rioters took everything from the store, including batteries and shock absorbers.
In the late afternoon, the police managed to secure the mall, but the rioters remained outside, throwing stones at the police and shouting for the release of those arrested. As night fell, more and more rioters gathered around the mall and police erected barricades in an attempt to keep them away.
In Soweto, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital reported that the number of injured coming to the emergency room had tripled the daily average. The unrest has forced the government to close some COVID-19 vaccination centers, disrupting urgent efforts needed to vaccinate thousands of people aged 50 and over daily.
In Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, the Pan Africa shopping center continued to be ransacked and was set on fire on Tuesday.
A looted radio station goes out
Alex FM radio station, which has served the Alexandra community for 27 years, was broken into at 2 a.m. on Tuesday and thieves stole equipment worth R 5 million ($ 350,000), forcing the station to cease its airwaves, declared the director of the station, Takalane Nemangowe.
“Our on-air anchor and our security guards walked out the back door unharmed,” Nemangowe told The Associated Press. “But the looters cleaned up our offices. They took all of our broadcasting equipment, computers, laptops, microphones, everything.”
Nemangowe said no police or army patrolled the area. Alex FM station is community funded and runs a training program for young residents, he said. “We were the voice of the voiceless here in Alexandra. And now we’re silent. It’s really sad.”
But Nemangowe had not given up hope. On Tuesday afternoon, he and other staff were offered facilities at a radio station in the affluent suburb of neighboring Sandton, where they were trying to start teleporting to the community of Alexandra.
Authorities have repeatedly warned people, including Zuma supporters and relatives, against using social media to encourage riots. Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Tuesday that around ten people had been identified as being behind the riots.
The Constitutional Court, the highest in the country, on Monday heard Zuma’s request to quash his sentence. Zuma’s lawyer argued that the highest court made mistakes in sentencing Zuma to prison. After 10 hours of testimony, the judges said they would announce their decision at a later date.