JOHANNESBURG, VOSLOORUS: After 27 years of democracy, South Africa has witnessed deadly protests that turned to a looting spree.
A week of violence that has engulfed South Africa slowly began to ebb on Thursday, and people counted the cost of an orgy of arson and looting that has destroyed hundreds of businesses.
The riots initially started in response to the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma last week for his failure to appear at a corruption inquiry.
But they swiftly degenerated into looting and destruction, driven by widespread anger over the hardship and inequality that nearly three decades of democracy since the end of apartheid have failed to address.
Confusion still lingers though whether these events were politically orchestrated, criminal elements or an indication of a failed leadership.
Half the population lives below the poverty line, according to the latest government figures from 2015, and growing joblessness since the coronavirus pandemic began has left many desperate. Unemployment stood at a record high of 32.6 percent in the first three months of 2021.
Vosloorus, in the East of Johannesburg, Gauteng province is one of the townships that was most hit hard by lootings and burning down of malls. Not even a spaza shop was spared.
One resident said, “This is death of the township economy, who would want to invest in a place like this?”.
Five malls were looted including the Chris Hani Mall, the biggest mall in the community.
As the looting continued in the dawn of Wednesday morning, Katlehong People’s Taxi Association (KAPTA) vowed to protect the little that remained at Chris Hani Mall.
Also due to the lack of police visibility, KAPTA took law into their own hands by firing live ammunition to scare off the looters. This led to the death of 14-year-old boy.
“We will not allow these people to continue destroying the little that has left, and we won’t hesitate to kill. We are losing business,” shouted one taxi boss from a distance as this news crew toured affected areas.
Earlier in the morning, a body of a man wan was found covered with cement at Cashbuild, although heartless looters never spared an eye, vowing to finish off what was left at the hardware.
Another body was found at Shoprite inside mall, and is believed that the looter may have died due to a stampede.
CommuTalk also caught up with some looters who blamed poverty for their actions as they hushed to evade law enforcement officers who had just arrived.
They also blamed politicians for the said poverty claiming that they only come when they are campaigning.
African National Congress (ANC) members were on the ground in the most affected areas trying to calm the situation.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, and the ANC’s national spokesperson Pule Mabe, also visited Chris Hani Mall and some parts of Ekurhuleni to assess the level of damage.
In hope of calming the situation, South Africa has deployed the army to assist police in dispersing protestors.
The acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshaveni said 5000 members of South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) have already been deployed on the ground.
1478 arrests have been made to date with deaths linked to the violence having risen to 91.
“The ongoing deadly unrest tearing through parts of South Africa has been fuelled by criminal justice failures and years of impunity for violence,” Amnesty International South Africa said today as the death toll continues to rise.
Programme Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution Executive Secretary also said, ‘…a state of emergency is not required, but rather, there needs to be better policing.’
The unrest has also disrupted hospitals struggling to cope with a third wave of Covid-19. The National Hospital Network said on Wednesday it was running out of oxygen and drugs, most of which are imported through Durban. Some vaccination centres have been forced to shut.
Zuma, 79, was sentenced last month for defying an order to give evidence at a judicial inquiry probing high-level graft during his time in office from 2009 to 2018.
He has pleaded not guilty in a separate case on charges including corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. He says he is the victim of a witch-hunt by his political foes.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe President Emerson Mnangagwa had this to say via Twitter:
“On behalf of all Zimbabweans, both at home and abroad, we wish that the current challenges plaguing our South African brothers and sisters are resolved peacefully. Only when there is peace in South Africa, is there peace in our region”.