Seventy-two people have died and more than 3,000 people arrested, according to official figures, since the former president, Jacob Zuma, began a 15-month jail term, sparking protests that rapidly turned into a wave of looting of shops, malls, and warehouses.
10 people were killed only a day ago in a stampede during looting at a shopping centre in Soweto. The military has been deployed to help police overstretched since the unrest began last week.
In a statement released addressing the nation, the South African police noted that they had identified 12 people suspected of provoking the riots, and that a total of 1,234 people had been arrested.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has called it some of the worst violence witnessed in South Africa since the 1990s, before the end of apartheid, with fires started, highways blocked and businesses and warehouses looted in major cities and small towns in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces. The unrest has so far been almost entirely limited to South Africa’s two most densely populated provinces: Gauteng, where Johannesburg, the largest city and economic powerhouse is located, and KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province. Main roads in both provinces have been cut and supplies of food, fuel, and medicine badly disrupted. The government said 208 incidents of looting and vandalism were recorded on Wednesday, as the number of troops deployed to reinforce overwhelmed police doubled to 5,000.
All of this occurs as the country grapples with the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.