The South African government on Wednesday tried to deploy around 25,000 troops to prevent unrest, which is now the sixth day in a row, amid fears of food and oil shortages as disruptions to agriculture, manufacturing and refining of petroleum have begun to feel.
Seventy-two people have died and more than 1,200 people have been arrested, according to official statistics, since former President Jacob Zuma began a 15-month prison sentence, sparking protests that quickly changed.
The looting affected supply chains and transport links, especially in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, affecting goods and services across the country.
The government said 208 cases of looting and vandalism were recorded on Wednesday, with the number of troops deployed doubling to 5,000.
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But Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula later told parliament he had “submitted a request for the deployment of more than 25,000 troops.” The deployment of troops has been approved by the President.
He did not say when exta soldiers would be on the streets.
The government was pressured to add boots to the ground to quickly end the violence plaguing the already struggling economy.
The country’s consumer goods regulator estimated that more than 800 retail stores were looted.
President Cyril Ramaphosa met with leaders of political parties and warned that parts of the country “may soon run out of basic supplies following severe disruptions in food, fuel and drug supply chains.”
Transnet’s state logistics operator on Wednesday announced a “massive force” – an emergency beyond his control – on a key railway connecting Johannesburg to the coast because of the unrest.
In the port city of Durban, hundreds of people lined up outside the grocery store hours before it opened, as car lines also formed outside gas stations, a photographer from AFP.
On Tuesday, the country’s largest factory, SAPREF, shut down its Durban factory, which accounts for a third of South Africa’s oil supply.
“It’s inevitable that we will have a fuel shortage in the next few days or weeks,” said Layton’s Bearded Car Association.
“A major humanitarian crisis”
In the Soweto city of Johannesburg, bread was being sold by a delivery truck outside a major shopping center when shops were looted or closed for fear of vandalism.
The looting “has seriously affected our energy security and our food security,” said Bonang Mohale, a chancellor of the University of the Free State.
The violence has also disrupted the delivery of coronavirus vaccines and drug shipments to hospitals, Mohale said, repeating similar reports from hospitals.
The country, which has recorded more than 2.2 million infections, is in the midst of a third wave of viral violence.
Christo van der Rheede, executive director of the largest farmers’ organization, AgriSA, said producers were struggling to get their produce to market due to “disturbance” of materials.
He warned that if law and order were not restored immediately, “we would have a serious humanitarian crisis.”
Sugarcane fields were set on fire in KwaZulu-Natal, a major cane-producing region, while cattle elsewhere were stolen.
Deployment of the army
Ramaphosa had earlier deployed 2,500 troops earlier this week to help overpower police forces, before plans quickly changed to bring the number to 25,000.
But residents have begun to form watchdog groups to protect infrastructure in their suburbs.
On Wednesday, a group of small city bus operators armed with sticks and guns and brutally beat up suspected robbers in the town of Vosloorus, southeast of Johannesburg.
Pictures of a crowd of looters carrying refrigerators, large televisions, microwaves and crates of food and alcohol have come as a shock to many South Africans.
The new king of the Zulu community, Misuzulu Zulu, said the violence brought “great disgrace” to his people.
“This unrest is destroying the economy, and it is the poor who will suffer the most,” warned the king, who has great influence over the Zulus but lacks practical power.
“This is a major economic disaster, ”Mohale acknowledged.
The looting quickly followed protests against the imprisonment of the former president, who is seen by other members of the ruling ANC as an advocate for the poor.
Formerly known as “Teflon president,” Zuma was sentenced to life in prison on June 29 by the Constitutional Court for rescinding an order to appear before a commission investigating corruption that has spread under his rule.