The government of South Africa on Wednesday sought to deploy about 25,000 soldiers to contain the violence that began almost a week ago, amid fears of food and fuel shortages due to interruptions in agriculture, factories and oil refining.
Official figures indicate that 72 people have died and more than 1,200 have been arrested since the former president Jacob Zuma began serving a 15-month jail sentence, sparking protests that quickly turned violent.
Looting hit distribution and transportation chains, especially in the southern KwaZulu-Natal province of Zuma, affecting the distribution of goods and services throughout the country.
The government said 208 incidents of vandalism and looting were recorded on Wednesday.
In response, Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told parliament that she had “submitted a request to deploy approximately 25,000” soldiers. The dispatch of troops must be authorized by the president.
The minister did not specify when the troops will be in the streets.
The government has faced pressure to increase the number of soldiers to contain the violence that hits an already weakened economy.
The consumer goods regulator estimated that more than 800 businesses have been looted.
President Cyril Ramaphosa met with leaders of political parties and warned them that parts of the country “could soon face shortages of basic products due to interruptions in the supply chains of food, fuel and medicine.”
State logistics operator Transnet declared an emergency out of its control on Wednesday on a key rail line connecting Johannesburg to the coast, due to instability.
In the port city of Durban, hundreds of people lined up in front of a grocery store hours before it opened, as vehicles lined up at fuel stations, an AFP photographer observed.
On Tuesday, the country’s main refinery closed its plant in Durban, which supplies a third of South Africa’s fuel consumption.
“It is inevitable that we will have a fuel shortage in the coming days or weeks”, said Layton Beard of the Automobile Association.
Mass humanitarian crisis
On Soweto, a town in Johannesburg, bread was being sold from a delivery truck in front of a shopping center, as stores closed due to looting or fear of vandalism.
The looting “seriously compromised our energy and food security”, warned Bonang Mohale, rector of Free State University.
The violence also disrupted coronavirus vaccination and drug delivery in hospitals, Mohale said.
The country, which has registered more than 2.2 million infections, faces a brutal third wave of covid-19.
Christo van der Rheede, CEO of AgriSA, the leading national farmers’ organization, said producers are struggling to get their crops to market amid logistical difficulties.
He assured that if law and order are not restored soon, “we are going to have a massive humanitarian crisis.”
Meanwhile, sugarcane fields were set on fire in KwaZulu-Natal, the country’s main sugar zone, while in other places there was theft of cattle.
Deployment of troops
Ramaphosa initially deployed just 2,500 troops earlier in the week to support the police, but plans quickly changed to increase them to 25,000.
Meanwhile, local villagers began forming vigilante groups to protect the infrastructure in their neighborhoods.
A group of minibus operators armed themselves with clubs and firearms on Wednesday and brutally beat suspected vandalism in the town of Vosloorus, southeast of Johannesburg.
The images of vandals loading refrigerators, big screen televisions, microwaves, and food and beverage boxes have been a visceral shock for many South Africans.
The new king of the Zulu community, Misuzulu Zulu, said the violence caused “great shame” among his people.
“This chaos is destroying the economy, and it is the poor who are going to suffer the most”, warned the monarch, who has moral influence over the Zulu, but not political power.
The looting began shortly after the former president Zuma, regarded by many as an advocate for the poor, began serving his sentence.
Zuma was sentenced on June 29 by the Constitutional Court for refusing to testify before a commission that investigates the corruption that proliferated during his government.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.