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6 killed as South African riots spread after jailing of former president

South Africa said it will deploy its army to help police quell the violence
Police stand over arrested suspect looters in a shopping centre in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, July 12, 2021. Police say six people are dead and more than 200 have been arrested amid escalating violence during rioting that broke out following the imprisonment of South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma. (AP Photo/Yeshiel Panchia)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation for the second time in two days after protests triggered by last week’s incarceration of his predecessor claimed six lives, forced businesses to shut and weakened the currency.

The riots began in former President Jacob 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 Ltd., Woolworths Holdings Ltd. and Massmart Holdings Ltd., a unit of Walmart Inc., were among the companies to shut outlets.

“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.”

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 Ramaphosa warned Sunday 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. 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.

“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.”

Ramaphosa’s office didn’t disclose a time for his address to the nation on Monday.

The ruling African National Congress said while it shares the pain of its members and supporters who were saddened by Zuma’s prison sentence, the party condemns all acts of violence and affirms its respect for the Constitution and rule of law.

“We support the government in efforts to strengthen its response and take harsher measures against this rioting, looting and destruction of property,” ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte told reporters on Monday. “The ANC will act against any people within its own ranks who have fanned the flames of these uprisings and called for, or are in any way involved, in inciting such violence.”

South Africa’s rand weakened as much as 2% to 14.5058 the dollar in Johannesburg, the most since Feb. 25 as the violence spread.

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.

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