South Africa has been rocked by violence and looting for five consecutive days, with more than 70 people killed as grievances over the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma spiralled into the worst unrest in decades.
Following the jailing of the former leader, protests and mass looting have widened into an outpouring of anger over the inequality that remains 27 years after the end of apartheid.
Poverty has been exacerbated by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
More than 1,200 people have been arrested in the lawlessness that has raged in poor areas of two provinces, where a community radio station was ransacked and forced off the air on Tuesday and some COVID-19 vaccination centres were closed, disrupting urgently needed inoculations.
Many of the deaths in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces occurred in chaotic stampedes as thousands of people stole food, electric appliances, liquor and clothing from stores, police said.
The deployment of 2,500 soldiers to support the overwhelmed South African police has so far failed to stop the rampant looting.
African Union chairman condemns surge of violence
The African Union Commission’s Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat has condemned “in the strongest terms” the widespread violence unfolding in South Africa, while extending his condolences to the families of those who were killed.
Mahamat also called for “an urgent restoration of order, peace and stability in the country in full respect to the rule of law,” read a statement published on Tuesday night.
The failure to do so, “can have grave impacts not only in the country but the region as a whole,” it added.
Overnight violence spreads to two more provinces
Overnight violence spread to two provinces, Mpumalanga, just east of Gauteng, and Northern Cape, police said in a statement.
A Reuters news agency photographer saw several shops being looted in the town of Hammersdale, Mpumalanga. Local TV stations meanwhile showed more looting of shops in South Africa’s largest township Soweto, and in the port city of Durban.
The national prosecuting authority has said it will punish those caught looting or destroying property, a threat that so far has done little to deter them.