At least 45 people have died in South Africa during violent riots over the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma — with even cops seemingly caught helping themselves during shocking scenes of mass looting.
Sporadic violence first broke out last Thursday when Zuma, 79, started serving his 15-month sentence for defying a court order to appear at an inquiry investigating corruption during his nine years in office.
But it soon grew to some of the worst violence seen there in years — spreading from Zuma’s home in KwaZulu-Natal province to the country’s biggest city Johannesburg and surrounding Gauteng province, and to the Indian Ocean port city of Durban.
Shocking videos showed hundreds of people swarming through shopping districts and climbing up through almost completely empty shelves. Some malls were even torched.
“So uneccesary. So uncalled for,” one person said as they filmed burning cars in the street and shopping areas “absolutely destroyed.”
One clip shared on social media even seemingly caught a police officer looking around cautiously as she helped load up a squad van with items, including several coolers.
Many of the deaths have been blamed on chaotic stampedes to steal food, electric appliances, liquor and clothing, officials have said.
“The criminal element has hijacked this situation,” said David Makhura, the premier of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg.
At least 19 had been killed in Gauteng, including 10 on Monday at a mall in the Meadowlands area of Soweto where gunshots were heard. Another 26 people had also been killed in KwaZulu-Natal province, many crushed in the shops, officials said Tuesday.
The looting continued Tuesday even after the deployment of 2,500 soldiers to support the South African police.
Announcing that there had been at least 757 arrests, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that no one would be allowed to “make a mockery of our democratic state”.
“No amount of unhappiness or personal circumstances from our people gives the right to anyone to loot,” he said.
An emotional Makhura, the Gauteng premier, said that the “looting is undermining our businesses.”
“It is undermining our economy, our community. It is undermining everything,” he said.
Zuma’s foundation said there would be no peace in South Africa until the former president was released from jail.
“Peace and stability in South Africa is directly linked to the release of President Zuma with immediate effect,” it said in a Tweet.
“The violence could have been avoided. It started with the decision of the constitutional court to detain president Zuma … This is what gave anger to the people,” a spokesman for the foundation told Reuters separately.
The Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, heard Zuma’s application to have his sentence rescinded on Monday.
Zuma’s lawyer argued that the top court made errors when sentencing his client to prison.
After 10 hours of testimony, the judges said they would announce their decision at a later date.
The former president also faces trial in a separate case on charges including corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. He pleaded not guilty in court in May.
The rand, which had been one of the best performing emerging market currencies during the pandemic, dropped to a three-month low on Tuesday, and local and hard currency bonds suffered.
With Post wires