President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africa unrest was 'planned', death toll rises to 212

Filed on July 16, 2021
A member of the South African Defence Force keeps watch as people queue to continue shopping at a mall in Johannesburg. Photo: AFP

One of the suspected instigators has been arrested and 11 are under surveillance, minister says.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday said a week-long spree of violence and pillaging that has shocked South Africa had been "planned" and vowed to hunt down those responsible, as the death toll from the unrest reached 212.

"It is quite clear that all these incidents of unrest and looting were instigated -- there were people who planned it and coordinated it," Ramaphosa said in a visit to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, the flare point for post-apartheid South Africa's worst crisis.

"We are going after them," Ramaphosa told reporters.

"We have identified a good number of them, and we will not allow anarchy and mayhem to just unfold in our country."

A minister in Ramaphosa's office Khumbudzo Ntshavheni later told reporters the investigations "are at a very advanced stage."

One of the suspected instigators has been arrested and 11 are under surveillance, she said.

Shopping malls and warehouses have been ransacked in KZN and Johannesburg, stoking fears of shortages and inflicting a devastating blow to an already battered economy.

Of the 212 people killed, 180 died in KZN, according to government figures. Some of the fatalities were shot and others died in looting stampedes.

Ntshavheni said the situation in the affected regions was "gradually and firmly returning to normality."

The unrest followed protests triggered by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma, who was handed a 15-month jail term for snubbing a corruption investigation.

Zuma, whose home province is KZN, commands support among loyalists in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), who portray him as a champion of the poor.

In scenes that have stunned the nation, looters have casually plundered stores, pharmacies and in one case a blood bank, hauling away goods as police stood by, seemingly powerless to act.

More than 2,500 people have been arrested for various offences, including theft, according to official figures.

On Wednesday, the government called out the armed forces reserves to meet a new target of deploying 25,000 troops -- 10 times the number that it initially deployed and equal to about a third of active military personnel.

Police 'overwhelmed

Ramaphosa was expected to make a nationwide address on Friday night -- his third since the crisis began.

He defended the police, saying they had acted cautiously to avoid a catastrophe.

"Yes we could have done better, but we were overwhelmed by a situation," he said.

The police wanted "to save lives, to make sure that we did not get into a situation which could have resulted in more mayhem... The situation could have been much worse."

He pointed to the rollout of 25,000 troops and predicted that "in a short space of time they will have flooded" the two regions.

In Johannesburg on Friday, a military helicopter carrying the defence commander Rudzani Maphwanya landed in a car park in front of McDonald's restaurant in Alexandra township to oversee his troops.

"We are not going to allow thugs, crooks to continue unabated," warned Maphwanya describing the unrest as an assault on "national integrity".

"We are going to make sure that there's nobody who is going to challenge the authority of the state," he said. "We will meet force with force".

Fear of shortages

The unrest has spurred fears for supply chains, including fuel, food and medicine, at a time when South Africa is struggling with a vicious Covid-19 pandemic.

The country has the highest tally of Covid-19 cases and deaths in Africa, recording more than 2.2 million infections and nearly 66,000 deaths. In the past 24 hours, the toll has risen by 16,400 cases, of which 377 were fatal.

The World Health Organization's Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti has warned South Africa to brace for a surge in infections following the days of rioting and rooting.

Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza urged shoppers in other provinces not to go "panic buying" so as not to interrupt the food supply chain.

"We have sufficient food supplies in the country, the immediate problem(s) in supply chains for the KwaZulu-Natal are getting urgent attention," she said.

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