Civil unrest

South Africa: Ramaphosa resists calls to declare a state of emergency

Soldiers have been deployed in South Africa to quell unrest linked to the jailing of the former president Jacob Zuma.
Soldiers have been deployed in South Africa to quell unrest linked to the jailing of the former president Jacob Zuma. REUTERS - SIPHIWE SIBEKO

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is resisting calls to declare a state of emergency as the nation counts the cost of days of looting and violence. 


Former National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli is the latest high profile figure to call for a such a declaration after looters, operating with impunity against outnumbered police, stripped bare the shelves of stores in the coastal province of KwaZulu/Natal and the commercial heartland of Gauteng. 

At least 73 people have died in the violence that has cost an estimated two billion rands (€115 million). 

1200 arrests

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says a state of emergency will be declared should the need arise. 

She said 2,500 troops have been drafted in to help police. 

Carrying assault rifles loaded with sharp point ammunition, they have stopped looters who minutes earlier were taunting police armed with teargas and rubber bullets. 

Police Minister Bheki Cele, during a visit to the ruins of a mall in Alexandra, which neighbors salubrious Sandton, says the emphasis had to be on preventing further anarchy. 

“It would have been better had this not happened,” he said pointing to the burned out shops.

"But the fact that it did, does not mean we cannot prevent it happening again.” 

The looting was initially ascribed to protests against the jailing last week of the former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court. 

Ramaphosa has condemned the exploitation of ethnic differences with Zuma’s Zulu tribe in KwaZulu/Natal 

Analysts and community leaders, however, say the anarchy is spread by the desperation of people facing unemployment and grinding poverty exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and by rampant criminality as people realize they can grab what they want without consequences. 

Cele says the authorities have identified a dozen people who have exploited this and used social media to instigate violence and disorder. 

Zuma loyalists

State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo says they are investigating a sinister third force of former state security agents loyal to Zuma using their insider knowledge to stoke the flames of unrest. 

Traffic along the arterial highway between Johannesburg and Durban has been stopped for a week. At least 40 trucks have been torched and used to block the road. 

This means that the stores stripped by the looters will take weeks to resupply once the trucks are able to move. 

The break in the supply chain has also affected the Covid vaccination programme that began hesitantly and late in the African country worst hit by the pandemic. 

Fear of the violence has closed the SAPREF petrol refinery that supplies a third of South Africa’s fuel. 

Motorists have began queuing to fill their vehicles. 

Ramaphosa will meet political leaders on Wednesday in the search for cross-party support in the effort to stem the disorder.

He met with business leaders on Tuesday and with the State Security Council. 

Meanwhile communities are stepping up to protect their neighborhoods and shopping malls. 

Armed private security firms in the wealthier neighborhoods have managed to ensure that malls under their protection are not among the 200 that have been gutted. 

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