Stores in two South African provinces were ransacked for the fifth day in a row on Tuesday, just hours after President Cyril Ramaphosa dispatched troops to quell unrest that has claimed 45 lives.
The premier of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, said late Monday that ten bodies were discovered at a looted shopping center in Soweto, on the city’s outskirts.
“Police discovered in the evening that ten people died during a stampede,” provincial premier David Makhura told reporters.
He said the death toll in Gauteng was 19 people.
Earlier, the premier of the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikalala, said 26 people had died. “These were people killed in stampedes as protesters rioted,” Zikalala said, without naming any specific locations.
Hundreds of women, some in their dressing gowns, men, and even children walked into a butcher’s cold store in Soweto, emerging with heavy boxes of frozen meat balanced on their shoulders or heads.
A lone private security guard stood helplessly by, frantically dialing numbers.
Three hours later, police arrived and fired rubber bullets.
Hundreds of people streamed in and out of a shopping mall in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, freely picking up groceries. Boxed refrigerators were hauled through bushes to a long line of cars parked along a highway.
At least 757 people have been arrested, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele, with the majority of the arrests taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic capital.
He insisted, with a hopeful tone, that the police would ensure the situation “does not deteriorate any further.”
Ramaphosa slammed “opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft” in his national address Monday night. “It is critical that we restore calm and stability to all parts of the country as soon as possible,” he said.
“The path of violence, looting, and anarchy only leads to more violence and devastation,” Ramaphosa stated.
The unrest erupted last Friday, when Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for obstructing an investigation into the corruption that marred his nine years in power.
Zuma, dubbed the “Teflon president,” was sentenced to prison on June 29 by the Constitutional Court for refusing to appear before a commission investigating the graft that flourished during his nine years in power. He began serving his sentence on Thursday after surrendering to authorities as the surrender deadline approached.
He is attempting to have the ruling overturned.
On Monday, the Constitutional Court sat for ten hours to hear from Zuma’s lawyers, who asked the court to reconsider its ruling. However, the court postponed its decision until a later, unspecified date.
Zuma, 79, is a former anti-apartheid activist who spent ten years in the notorious Robben Island prison off the coast of Cape Town.
He rose through the ranks of democratic South Africa to become vice president and then president before being deposed by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in 2018 amid a wave of graft scandals. However, he remains popular among many poor South Africans, particularly ANC grassroots members who portray him as a defender of the oppressed.
Protests began shortly after Zuma began his sentence, and were quickly followed by pillaging of shopping malls, with people carting away TV sets, furniture, alcohol, food, and other items, with police seemingly powerless to intervene.
Ramaphosa slammed those who claimed the unrest was political in nature.
“There is no grievance, nor is there any political cause, that can justify the violence and destruction,” he said.
South Africa, Africa’s most industrialized country, is mired in an economic quagmire, with cripplingly high unemployment rates. Economic activity has been badly affected by restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.