South Africans were torn between heartbreak and disbelief at the devastation that played out in parts of the country on Tuesday.
Johannesburg – South Africans were torn between heartbreak and disbelief at the devastation that played out in parts of the country on Tuesday.
Stores and warehouses in various parts of South Africa were hit by looters 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 Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the crisis burst into the political arena, where the DA accused radicals of stoking the unrest.
SANDF fails to curb unrest
The SANDF 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.
In a number of areas across the country, Community Policing Forums (CPFs) patrolled their neighbourhoods to guard against businesses being ransacked, while others set up road blocks to prevent looted goods from being transported out of the area.
Many people were simply overwhelmed by the chaos, with some resorting to bizarre punishment for looters.
Security guards at the Chris Hani Mall in Vosloorus force looters to swim in the water released by the sprinkler system during the mayhem.
Essential goods running out
In Gauteng and KZN, the supply of basic grocery items like bread and milk ground to a halt and the few stores that were operational saw long queues forming as desperate residents tried to get their hands on items like baby formula, nappies and medicine.
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, where 10 bodies were found late Monday at a looted shopping centre in Soweto, on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Gauteng 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, KZN premier Sihle Zikalala said 26 people there had died, some “killed during stampedes as protesters ran riot”.
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.
Other images showed the Game warehouse being looted in Pietermaritzburg.
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.
In his address to the nation on 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.
Ramping up political pressure on Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance announced it would file criminal charges on Wednesday against Zuma’s children and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader 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 June 29 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 last 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 judgement on his application to rescind its ruling.
Zuma, 79, remains popular among many poor South Africans, especially grassroots members of the ANC, who portray him as a defender of the disadvantaged.
The 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 Covid-19.