Rioting in South Africa triggered by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma has escalated as shopping centres in Johannesburg were looted, major roads were blocked with burning tyres and the police and military struggled to contain the violence.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a sombre address to the nation on Monday night, vowed that the police and army would restore order, and appealed to all South Africans to work together for peace.
The unrest started last week in KwaZulu-Natal province after Zuma was imprisoned for contempt of court.
What began as fairly small-scale blocking of roads in Zuma’s home area intensified and spread to Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province, including Johannesburg, the country’s largest city.
The South African National Defence Force has been deployed to help police.
At least 10 people have been killed and more than 490 arrested “in acts of public violence rarely seen in the history of our democracy”, Mr Ramaphosa said.
Without mentioning Zuma, Mr Ramaphosa said the “violence may indeed have its roots in the pronouncements and activities of individuals with a political purpose, and in expressions of frustration and anger. However, what we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft”.
He said the root cause of the rioting is South Africa’s high rate of poverty and unemployment.
“This moment has thrown into stark relief what we already knew: that the level of unemployment, poverty and inequality in our society is unsustainable,” Mr Ramaphosa said.
“We cannot expect a lasting and durable peace if we do not create jobs and build a more just and equitable society in which all South Africans can participate freely and equally.”
He urged all South Africans to refrain from violence.
“Together, we will defeat those who seek to destabilise our country. We will stand as one people, united against violence, unanimous in our commitment to peace and to the rule of law.”
Earlier on Monday, the looting of retail centres broke out in poorer areas of Johannesburg, including Benmore, Jeppestown, Vosloorus, and Soweto, where the Jabulani and Dobsonville malls were hit.
Retail stores in Alexandra, east of Johannesburg, were also affected, and journalists covering the riots for the public South African Broadcasting Corporation and news channel Newzroom Afrika were robbed of their equipment.
In KwaZulu-Natal, people took appliances, including microwave ovens, TV sets and clothing from stores in the Mariannhill and Umlazi areas.
The violence began last week when Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court. He defied a court order to give evidence to a state-backed inquiry probing allegations of corruption during his term as president from 2009 to 2018.
The Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, began hearing his appeal on Monday.