South Africa

South Africa calls up army reserves as looting and unrest continues

Looters scavenge around an area near a burning warehouse in Durban in South Africa.
Looters scavenge around an area near a burning warehouse in Durban in South Africa. REUTERS - ROGAN WARD

The South African government has mustered thousands of army reserves in an attempt to curb unrest, now in its sixth straight day, amid food and fuel shortages.

Advertising

"All reserve members are to report for duty at first light tomorrow morning 15 July 2021 at their respective units," army chief Lieutenant-General Lawrence Mbatha said in orders issued overnight.

Soldiers should report ready with their necessary equipment, the defence ministry said in a statement.

On Wednesday the government doubled the number of troops deployed to 5,000 after recording 208 incidents of looting and vandalism. It later said it would deploy 25,000 troops to tackle the emergency.

Stores and warehouses have been ransacked and torched around the economic capital of Johannesburg and in the south-eastern state of KwaZulu-Natal which includes the city of Durban.

The disruption has severed supply chains and choked transport links, impeding deliveries of fuel, medicine and other essentials.

According to official figures, 72 people have died and more than 1,200 people have been arrested, while South Africa's consumer goods regulatory body estimates that more than 800 shops have been plundered.

Food shortages

The request for extra troops came after President Cyril Ramaphosa met leaders of political parties and cautioned that parts of the country may soon be running short of basic provisions following the disruption to supply chains.

State-owned logistics operator Transnet declared a "force majeure" on Wednesday - an emergency beyond its control - on a key rail line that links Johannesburg to the coast because of the unrest.

In the port city of Durban, hundreds of people queued outside food stores hours before they opened, as lines of cars also formed outside fuel stations.

Panic-buying

On Thursday, South Africa's mines and energy ministry urged people not to panic-buy and hoard fuel, after the country's largest refinery SAPREF shuttered its plant in Durban and the movement of petroleum products was disrupted by unrest.

"The government is working to secure the movement of all petroleum product," the ministry said in a statement, adding that it had issued regulations prohibiting the sale of petrol and diesel into containers.

Self-protection

People in areas most affected by the looting have begun forming vigilante groups to protect their premises.

In one shopping mall in a township south of Johannesburg, taxi owners have taken control.

"From now on we must protect the businesses, anyone approaching our premises will have to deal with taxi owners," a guard told RFI.

“We are hungry and we have no money or food," one young man said. "We’ve come here just to get enough to feed our families. We want jobs.”

The unrest began a day after former president Jacob Zuma - who is regarded by left-wing radicals as a champion of the poor - began a 15-month jail term on 8 July for refusing to testify to a commission probing corruption under his tenure.

(with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning