Crowds clashed with police, looted shops and set alight shopping malls across South Africa on Tuesday (July 13) with dozens reported killed as grievances unleashed by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma boiled over into the worst unrest in the country since the end of apartheid.
Zuma, 79, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on June 29. The sentence came after the Constitutional Court found him guilty of contempt for failing to appear before a commission investigating corruption accusations while he was president. Zuma has repeatedly declared that he was the victim of a giant political conspiracy.
Protests erupted last week in parts of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Zuma’s home province, after the ex-leader handed himself over to police to serve the 15-month jail term. The violence has worsened as Zuma challenged the 15-month term in the country’s top court on Monday.
Looting spread from KZN to Johannesburg, the country’s biggest city, and its surrounding province of Gauteng.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) said late on Tuesday that as many as 72 people had lost their lives and 1,234 had been arrested over the last few days as protests descended into looting and riots.
Most of the deaths, the forces, said “relate to stampedes that occurred during incidents of looting of shops”. Others were linked to shooting and explosions of bank automatic cash machines.
“This will exacerbate the already social and economic hardships caused by joblessness, poverty and inequality in the country,” the United Nations in South Africa said in a statement on Tuesday night.
Unemployment stood at a new record high of 32.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021 while poverty has been exacerbated by severe social and economic restrictions.
The deployment of 2,500 soldiers to support the overwhelmed South African police has so far failed to stop the rampant looting.
With reporting by Al Jazeera, Reuters, BBC