South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says deadly violence and looting that have shaken the country over the past week were planned as death toll mounts to 212.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that deadly violence and looting that have shaken the country over the past week were planned, as he arrived in the epicentre of the unrest.
"It is quite clear that all these incidents of unrest and looting were instigated, there were people who planned it and coordinated it," Ramaphosa said on Friday.
Ramaphosa made the remarks when he visited Ethekwini Municipality, which includes the port city Durban, one of the areas worst hit in a week of looting and arson that destroyed hundreds of businesses and killed more than 210 people.
"We are going after them, we have identified a good number of them and, we will not allow anarchy and mayhem to just unfold in our country," he told reporters.
Ramaphosa's visit to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province was his first on the ground since the unrest — the worst in post-apartheid South Africa — erupted in the southeastern province before spreading to Johannesburg.
Zuma sparks protests
Shopping malls and warehouses have been ransacked in two provinces, stoking fears of shortages and inflicting a devastating blow to the economy.
At least 212 people have died, some shot and others killed in looting stampedes.
Protests broke out on July 9, a day after ex-president Jacob Zuma, who wields support among the poor and loyalists in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), began a 15-month jail term for snubbing a corruption investigation.
It swiftly degenerated into looting and destruction, driven by widespread anger over the poverty and inequality that persist nearly three decades after the end of white minority rule.
The government said on Thursday that one of the suspected instigators had been arrested and 11 were under surveillance.
Ramaphosa will "undertake an oversight visit (in KZN) to assess the impact of recent public violence and the deployment of security forces," his office said earlier.
Pockets of unrest remained on Friday, and eNCA television reported that a business park was torched overnight in Isipingo, a town south of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
The long-term social and economic cost of the unrest was becoming clearer, with calls for the government to address underlying problems to head off mo re violence and despair.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation — a legacy of the late leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and South Africa's first Black president — said violence had been growing at "disturbing levels" in the last two decades and was now regarded as normal.
The state has focused on strengthening law enforcement but neglected strategies to tackle the problems' roots, it said.
"There are too many people feeling discarded and in despair, too many people with nothing to lose, too many people who have seen political and other elites at all levels play fast and loose with the law, with impunity," the foundation said.
The head of Statistics South Africa, Risenga Maluleke, said it could take years to rebuild damaged infrastructure, and small businesses "will find it difficult to rise from the ashes".
This would lead to even more unemployment, he said. Most of the people in the streets were youths with few job prospects and limited education opportunities.
Government sends in troops
On Wednesday, the government called out around 25,000 troops to tackle the emergency — 10 times the number that it initially deployed and equivalent to about a third of the country's active military personnel.
Defence, security and police ministers and the top army brass went to KZN on Wednesday to assess the situation and oversee the expanded deployment of security forces there.
Although relative calm has returned to Johannesburg, the situation in KZN "remains volatile", a minister in Ramaphosa's office, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, told a news conference on Thursday.
Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), a respected business lobby group, has called on the government to impose a 24-hour curfew to quickly contain the unrest.
"This is an emergency unparalleled in our democratic history and requires the state to take immediate action," it said in a statement on Thursday.
"We believe this must include a strongly enforced curfew in specific areas to clear the streets and allow law enforcement to regain control," it said.
It echoed fears expressed by Ramaphosa of a disruption to supply chains including energy, food and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Analysts estimate that thousands of businesses have been plundered in what the minister described as "economic sabotage" masterminded by 12 suspects.
One of the alleged instigators has been arrested, while the other 11 are under increased police surveillance, Ntshavheni said.
In all 2,203 people have been arrested during the unrest for various offences, including theft.