Citizens arm themselves to loot, unrest rages in South Africa

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DURBAN, South Africa, July 14 (Reuters) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday he could order more troops on the streets as the army and police struggled to quell days of looting and violence, while some citizens armed themselves to protect their property and businesses from rampage.

More than 70 people have been killed in the unrest, the worst in South Africa in years, and hundreds of businesses have been wrecked. Food and fuel supplies are running out.

Triggered by the imprisonment of ex-President Jacob Zuma last week after he failed to appear for a corruption probe, it has turned into an orgy of looting and a wave of anger at the difficulties and inequalities that persist in South Africa 27 years after the end. apartheid.

Shopping malls and warehouses have been ransacked or set on fire in several towns, mainly in Zuma’s house in KwaZulu-Natal province, in particular the port city of Durban in the Indian Ocean, and the financial and economic center of Johannesburg. and the surrounding province of Gauteng. Read more

Soldiers have been deployed to help outnumbered police contain the unrest. Security forces say they have arrested more than 1,200 people, but the government has refrained from imposing a state of emergency.

Ramaphosa met with political party leaders on Wednesday to discuss ways to deal with the unrest.

“President Ramaphosa welcomed the proposals made by political leaders and said that an expanded deployment of the South African National Defense Force was under consideration,” a government statement said.

Violence appears to have subsided in some areas on Wednesday, but in others, fires and looting resumed.

Citizens armed with guns, many of whom belong to South Africa’s white minority, have blocked the streets to prevent further looting, Reuters TV footage showed. A man shouted to a group gathered on a street corner, “Go home and protect your homes”.

Other residents have crowded in front of supermarkets while they wait for them to open so they can stock up on basic necessities.

Some wealthy Durban residents have chartered small planes and helicopters out of town, a Reuters photographer reported. Others lined up for food and fuel. Many roads outside the city have been blocked either by looting or by vigilantes.

Previously, several shops had been looted in the town of Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal.

Plumes of black smoke rose from a burning warehouse in Durban, as people nearby loaded goods strewn by the side of the road.

In Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, a Reuters correspondent saw soldiers door-to-door confiscating stolen items with the help of civilians on Wednesday opposed to looting.

In Soweto, televised footage from the eNCA showed civilians alongside police protecting shopping malls that had yet to be hit by rioters.

Overnight, chaos spread to two more provinces – Mpumalanga, just east of Gauteng, and Northern Cape, police said.

INTERRUPTED HPITALS

The unrest has also disrupted hospitals struggling to cope with a third wave of COVID-19.

The National Hospital Network (NHN), representing 241 public hospitals already strained by Africa’s worst COVID-19 outbreak, said it was lacking in oxygen and medicines, most of which are imported via Durban, as well. than food.

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

Staff in affected areas were unable to get to work, he said, compounding shortages caused by the pandemic.

The poverty and inequalities that fuel violence have been compounded by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at curbing COVID-19. The United Nations in South Africa has expressed concern that transportation disruptions for riot workers will also exacerbate the problems.

The rand is hovering around three-month lows, a pullback for what had been one of the best performing emerging market currencies during the pandemic.

South Africa’s largest SAPREF refinery in Durban has been temporarily closed, an industry official said on Wednesday.

The mayor of Ethekwini, the municipality that includes Durban, estimated that 15 billion rand ($ 1 billion) had been lost in property damage and another billion in lost inventory.

Some 40,000 businesses have been affected by the unrest, he said.

“A large part of them may never recover,” he told reporters on Wednesday, putting nearly 130,000 jobs at risk.

Zuma, 79, was convicted last month for defying a court order to testify during an investigation into high-level looting during his nine years in office until 2018.

He is also to be tried in a separate case on charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. The former president pleaded not guilty in court in May. His foundation said on Tuesday that the violence would continue until his release.

Although sparked by Zuma’s imprisonment, the unrest reflects growing frustration with the failure of the ruling African National Congress to tackle inequality decades after the end of the white minority regime in 1994, which ushered in the democracy.

About half of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the latest government figures from 2015, and rising unemployment since the pandemic has left many people desperate. Unemployment hit a new high of 32.6% in the first three months of 2021.

($ 1 = Rand 14.7161)

Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Tanisha Heiberg, Promit Mukherjee, Alexander Winning and Tim Cocks in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town Writing by Tim Cocks Editing by Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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