JOHANNESBURG: Protests triggered by last week’s jailing of former South African President Jacob Zuma have claimed six lives, seen scores of business looted and weakened the currency, with the police struggling to contain escalating violence.
“Yesterday was very chaotic. The shops that were open were looted,” Christian Sosibo, a resident of Johannesburg’s poor, densely populated Hillbrow suburb, said on Monday. “Today has been very quiet but the shops are closed, nothing much is happening but the police are alert.”
What’s going on in South Africa?
* The former president was sentenced to 15 months in jail for defying a court order to testify at a graft inquiry. He denies any wrongdoing.
* The upheaval coincided with the extension of a lockdown that’s hurting businesses and robbed many people of their livelihoods in a nation with a 32.6% unemployment rate.
* The riots began in Zuma’s home base of KwaZulu-Natal province and spread to the nation’s economic hub of Gauteng over the weekend, disrupting commerce and transport networks.
* Authorities arrested more than 200 people and worked to disperse hundreds of protesters who targeted stores across the two regions, the police said in a statement on Sunday.
* A key trade route in the country’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal was shut after trucks were torched on Friday night and the looting of malls followed. Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest lender, closed its branches in protest-hit areas.
*Retailers Pick n Pay Stores, Woolworths Holdings and Massmart Holdings, a unit of Walmart, were among the companies to shut outlets.
* South Africa’s rand weakened 1.9% to 14.4519 the dollar at 1:42pm in Johannesburg, the most since February 25 as the violence spread.
South Africa said it will deploy its army to help police quell the violence, among the worst the nation has seen since the end of white minority rule in 1994, while President Cyril Ramaphosa warned that all rioters will be prosecuted. The admonishing failed to stem the tumult that began after Zuma turned himself in to authorities on July 7.
“South Africa has been sitting on a powder keg for some time,” Mervyn Abrahams, program coordinator for the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice Dignity Programme said by phone from Durban. Joblessness, inflation, and the lockdown means “the rioting and looting is a prime way for many criminal elements to take advantage of the situation under the banner of Free Zuma whether they believe in it or not,” he said.
The Constitutional Court on Monday began hearing Zuma’s application to have his conviction and sentencing overturned.
“While there are those who may be hurt and angry at this moment, there can never be any justification for such violent, destructive and disruptive actions,” Ramaphosa said in a televised speech on Sunday. “It is a matter of concern to all South Africans that some of these acts of violence are based on ethnic mobilization.”
While parts of the N3 Toll Route, which links the port city of Durban with Gauteng province, was reopened on Monday, access to the M2 highway in Johannesburg remained restricted in some areas after violence erupted there overnight. The inner city and central business district bore the brunt of the violence.
The police are investigating the deaths of four people in Gauteng and another two in KwaZulu-Natal, according to a statement by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure.