Stores and warehouses in South Africa were hit by looters Tuesday for a fifth day running despite the troops President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed to try to quell unrest that has claimed 72 lives.
As pillaging erupted in the economic capital of Johannesburg and the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s main opposition accused radicals of stoking the unrest.
The armed forces were sending 2,500 soldiers to help the overwhelmed police.
But these numbers are dwarfed by the more than 70,000 troops deployed to enforce last year’s coronavirus lockdown, and only a handful of soldiers were seen at some shopping centres.
The raging unrest first erupted last Friday after former president Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month term for contempt, having snubbed a probe into the corruption that stained his nine years in power.
By the weekend, it started spreading to Gauteng province.
“The total number of people who have lost their lives since the beginning of these protests … has risen to 72,” the police said in a statement late Tuesday.
Most of the deaths “relate to stampedes that occurred during incidents of looting of shops”, it said.
Others were linked to shootings and explosions of bank ATMs.
The number of arrests has risen to 1,234, although many thousands have been involved in the ransacking sprees.
Looting ‘for my mum’
Earlier TV footage showed dozens of women, some wearing their dressing gowns, men and even children strolling into a butcher in Soweto, coming out balancing heavy boxes of frozen meat on their heads or shoulders.
Police showed up three hours later and fired rubber bullets. Soldiers eventually followed.
In Alexandra township north of Johannesburg, hundreds of people streamed in and out of a shopping mall, freely grabbing groceries.
Looters who spoke to AFP said they had got caught up in the rush, or saw the chance to ease a life blighted by poverty.
“I’m really not concerned about Zuma. He is a corrupt old man that deserves to be in jail,” said a 30-year-old man who works at a car wash.
He admitted to “taking things from the shop for my mum” — stainless-steel pots, meat and groceries.
In Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal’s capital, people hauled boxed refrigerators through bushes to a long line of cars that were parked along a highway.
In Durban, aerial footage showed hundreds of people looting a large shopping centre and carting off huge boxes of goods.
A woman was seen throwing her baby from the first floor of a building to save her from fire after shops below her apartment were set on fire. The child safely landed with a group of people on the street.