At least 45 South Africans have died since riots broke out after the imprisonment of former South African president Jacob Zuma last Thursday (July 8).
Zuma began serving a 15-month service for contempt of court Thursday. The president had refused to comply with a court order to testify in a corruption investigation based on allegations while he was president from 2009 to 2018.
The unrest began in the poor areas of the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces Thursday and escalated to looting, with the death toll reaching 45 on Tuesday (July 13) as law enforcement tried to stop the riots. Many of the victims died in looting stampedes as people stole food, liquor, clothing and electronic appliances, according to the Associated Press.
Premier David Makhura of the Gauteng province said that more than 400 people were arrested in Gautang, which includes Johannesburg, but the situation was far under control. “The criminal element has hijacked this situation,” said Makhura in an address aired on the state South African Broadcasting Corp.
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“We understand that those unemployed have inadequate food. We understand that the situation has been made worse by the pandemic,” he continued. But this looting is undermining our businesses here (in Soweto). It is undermining our economy, our community. It is undermining everything.”
Makhura also appealed for leaders of political, religious and community organizations to urge people to stop the looting. 2,500 soldiers have been deployed to support the South African police. South African authorities have repeatedly warned Zuma supporters against using social media to encourage the riots.
According to the AP, at least 19 people have been killed in Gauteng, including 10 at a mall in the Meadowlands area of Soweto. KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala told AP Tuesday that at least 26 people have been killed in the province, with many crushed in the shops.
The unrest has not spread to South Africa’s seven other provinces so far, but police are on high alert, the AP reports.