More than 70 Dead in South African Riots Following Jailing of Former President Jacob Zuma

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Stores in two South African provinces were ransacked for a fifth consecutive day, hours after President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed troops in a bid to quell unrest that has claimed over 70 lives. The premier of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, said 10 bodies were found late on July 12 at a looted shopping centre in Soweto, on the city's outskirts.
Stores in two South African provinces were ransacked for a fifth consecutive day, hours after President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed troops in a bid to quell unrest that has claimed over 70 lives. The premier of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, said 10 bodies were found late on July 12 at a looted shopping centre in Soweto, on the city's outskirts. (Image: MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images)

Unrest in South Africa, following the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma, has claimed more than seventy lives. Riots intensified on Tuesday, July 13 despite calls for calm by senior officials and the deployment of thousands of soldiers to assist struggling local police forces.

South Africa’s Constitutional Court found former president Jacob Zuma, whose 9-year rule ended in early 2018, guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months in prison.

Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe read the ruling, stating, “It is indeed the lofty and lonely work of the Judiciary, impervious to public commentary and political rhetoric, to uphold, protect and apply the Constitution and the law at any and all costs.”

The decision was poorly received across South Africa, causing historic levels of unrest, looting, and violence.

President Cyril Ramaphosa described the unrest as “unprecedented” in the 27 years since the end of the apartheid regime. After a week of unrest, the death toll had reached 72, with around 1,300 arrests.

On Monday, July 12, ten people were killed during rioting at the Ndofaya mall in Soweto, officials said. It was also reported that others were killed when a stack of goods in a warehouse toppled, crushing looters. Four police officers were injured in the larger riots, reported The Guardian.   

Currently, the unrest has been limited to South Africa’s two most densely populated provinces, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province. On Monday, 26 deaths were reported in KwaZulu-Natal and 19 in Gauteng.

Looting is rampant

Looters have been witnessed hauling away large televisions, microwave ovens, clothes, and other linens. Cars and pickup trucks have been used to help remove items from storefronts. 

Similar scenes are unfolding across KwaZulu-Natal. The capital city of Pietermaritzburg has been hit particularly hard, with many stores selling consumer electronics, meat, clothes, and sports equipment being targeted by looters.

Most businesses in the area have shuttered their storefronts as a precaution, and false alarms have led to panicked evacuations of several malls in the Johannesburg area.

On Wednesday, July 13, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was considering sending in more troops to complement the thousands already assigned to control the riots and looting, reported Reuters.

Some 40,000 businesses are estimated to have been hit by the riots, threatening 130,000 jobs and causing local economic losses, including loss of stock valued in the billions. An estimated 1 billion US dollars have already been lost to property damage, with another billion dollars worth of associate stock lost as well.

Private citizens, in a bid to protect their property, have begun arming themselves. “Citizens armed with guns, many from South Africa’s white minority, blocked off streets to prevent further plundering,” reported Reuters.

Wealthy residents from South Africa’s third-largest city, Durban, were observed chartering small private planes and helicopters in order to escape the violence, while plumes of black smoke rose from burning warehouses in the area.

Hospitals under pressure

The looting is having disastrous effects on hospitals in the Durban area still grappling with a 3rd wave of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The National Hospital Network (NHN), which represents 241 public hospitals, told Reuters that it was “running out of oxygen and drugs most of which are imported through Durban.”

“The impact of the looting and destruction is having dire consequences on hospitals,” the NHN said.

Further compounding the problem, staff in the affected areas are finding it difficult to make it to work in the chaos, worsening pandemic-induced staff shortages.

Poverty and inequalities due to restrictions aimed at curbing the COVID-19 pandemic are being partially blamed for fueling the violence and riots.