72 people have died since July 7 in looting in South Africa. These unrest have prompted the closure of a refinery that supplies a third of the country’s fuel, as it faces a third wave of Covid.
Violence in South Africa has intensified with a latest death toll reporting 72 dead on the evening of July 13, according to the authorities. The looting, which has been taking place for six days, began sporadically in the wake of the sentencing of former President Jacob Zuma to 15 months in prison after the latter had, on several occasions, refused to testify in the framework of investigations into state corruption during his presidency (2009-2018).
In Zulu country, stronghold of the former head of state where he has been imprisoned since July 7, the first limited incidents broke out the next day with blocked roads and several trucks set on fire. But within days, 27 people were killed in the area, police said. More than 500 km away, violence and frenzied looting spread to the country’s largest city, Johannesburg: 45 people died in Gauteng province.
1,234 people arrested
Most of the deaths occurred as a result of stampede and looting of shops and malls, police said. Others are also linked to ATM explosions and gunfire, she said.
“I don’t really care about Zuma, he’s a corrupt old man who deserves to be in jail. I took things from the store for my mother, ”Tibello, 30, unemployed, his arms loaded with crisps and candies, told AFP near a shopping center in Soweto, which had been devastated earlier by the looters.
Hard hit by a third wave of Covid-19, South Africa, which reached record unemployment of 32.6% against the backdrop of a pandemic, imposed new health restrictions at the end of June. In this context, thousands of South Africans turned a deaf ear to the authorities’ appeals for calm and continued to flock to warehouses and shops, filling carts and trunks with cars. The images showed compact crowds rushing to retrieve a giant television, a table or even canned food.
The police, outnumbered, were quickly overwhelmed and the army was deployed, with 2,500 troops. A total of 1,234 people were arrested. In the evening, messages gradually giving out the extent of the destruction continued to flow. “This afternoon, one of our depots was looted and burned,” one of the country’s largest breweries posted on Facebook. Images showing dozens of people leaving a warehouse loaded with bags of rice weighing several kilos were also circulating on social networks.
In some neighborhoods, residents protect stores
The South African Petroleum (Sapref) refinery has declared temporarily closing its plant, which supplies 35% of the fuel consumed in the country, due to “force majeure”. “Fuel shortages in the coming days or weeks are inevitable,” motorists association spokesperson Layton Beard told AFP. According to him, some stations are already dry and others are rationing at the pump.
In Durban, a coastal town in Kwazulu-Natal affected by looting of shops and warehouses, lines of customers who had come for supplies were already stretching out on July 13 in front of supermarkets, fearing they would quickly run out of food. A woman trapped in a burning building was seen throwing her baby out of a window to save him. A group of people at the foot of the building with shops on the ground floor, managed to catch up with him, safe and sound.
The violence has sporadically started to spread to other provinces, including Mpumalanga and the North Cape, police said. In some neighborhoods, residents have organized themselves to ensure the security of their stores.
🔴🇿🇦Faced with the inability of the police to protect people and property, citizens armed with assault rifles and pistols take to the streets to try to restore order. Without a rapid return to public order, the country could fall into unheard-of violence. pic.twitter.com/O2FmoBT0if
– LSI AFRICA (@lsiafrica) July 12, 2021
With “Hands off our mall” signs, residents of the township of Tembisa, between Johannesburg and Pretoria, formed a human chain on July 13 at the end of the day in front of their mall.
If “frustrations and anger” have “political roots”, “no cause can justify” this violence, criticized President Cyril Ramaphosa. On July 12, after having made the decision to deploy the army, he had already warned of the risks of “shortages” if the spiral of violence did not stop. Police Minister Bheki Cele pledged that the situation “will not deteriorate further”.
But during the day, footage showed looters emptying the cold rooms of a Soweto butcher’s shop in front of a helpless private security guard. The police did not show up until three hours later. The opposition Democratic Alliance party has announced a complaint against several children of Jacob Zuma, who have increased calls for violence in recent days. The African Union for its part condemned in a statement “with the greatest firmness the outbreak of violence which resulted in the death of civilians and appalling scenes of looting”, calling “for an urgent restoration of order”.