Protesters clashed with security forces in several areas of South Africa and looters ransacked shopping malls on Tuesday as frustrations over poverty and inequality boiled over in to the country’s worst unrest in years, with the death toll rising to more than 30.
Many of the deaths occurred in chaotic stampedes as scores of people looted food, electrical appliances, liquor and clothing from retail centres, KwaZulu-Natal province premier Sihle Zikalala told the press on Tuesday morning.
“Yesterday’s events brought a lot of sadness. The number of people who have died in KwaZulu-Natal alone stands at 26. Many of them died from being trampled on during a stampede while people were looting items,” said Zikalala.
The bodies of 10 people were found on Monday evening after a stampede at a Soweto shopping mall as looting continued in Gauteng province, premier David Makhura said on Tuesday.
Security officials said the government was working to ensure the violence and looting did not spread further, but they stopped short of declaring a state of emergency.
“No amount of unhappiness or personal circumstances from our people gives the right to anyone to loot, vandalise and do as they please and break the law,” Police Minister Bheki Cele told a news conference.
The violence was triggered by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma as his supporters took to the streets last week, but the situation has evolved into an outpouring of anger over persistent poverty and inequality in South Africa 27 years after the end of apartheid.
The economic effects of COVID-19 restrictions have exacerbated the problems.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced late on Monday that he was dispatching troops to help overwhelmed police halt the unrest and “restore order”.
Troops were moving in to flashpoints on Tuesday as outnumbered police seemed helpless to prevent attacks and looting on businesses in Zuma’s home province KwaZulu-Natal and in Gauteng province, where the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg, is located. Columns of armoured personnel carriers rolled down highways.
Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller reporting from Johannesburg said looting and rioting continued throughout the night and into the morning.
“Police are trying to manage the situation. Looters are trying to access stores and shops even with police around,” Miller said.