South Africa mustered its army reserves in a bid to quell several days of looting that has ravaged supplies of food and other essentials and dealt a crippling blow to its economy.
The disorder slowly began to ebb across most affected provinces on Thursday before an expected surge in soldiers on the streets.
“All reserve members are to report for duty at first light tomorrow morning 15 July 2021 at their respective units,” army chief Lieutenant-General Lawrence Mbatha said in orders issued overnight as the unrest entered its sixth day.
Soldiers should “report ready with their necessary equipment”, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
The soldiers were expected in the hotspots of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, where the police and the army have been battling the disorder for days.
On Wednesday, the government said it would request the deployment of about 25,000 soldiers to tackle the emergency – 10 times the number that it initially deployed.
The unrest, which began last Friday, was triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma but widened into grievances over inequality and poverty.
Stores and warehouses have been ransacked and torched around the economic capital of Johannesburg and in the southeastern state of KwaZulu-Natal.
The disruption has severed supply chains and choked transport links, savaging deliveries of food, fuel, medicine and other essentials.
According to official figures, 72 people have died and more than 1,200 have been arrested, while South Africa’s consumer goods regulatory body estimates that more than 800 shops have been plundered.
Though arson and looting ebbed on Thursday, pockets of looting continued in the eastern port city of Durban.
A Reuters news agency reporter saw crowds in Durban’s Mobeni neighbourhood rolling away trolleys loaded with maize meal and other looted staples. Some loaded pick-up trucks – one such truck had to be abandoned as it had run out of fuel. Petrol stations have shut across the city because of the unrest.
Taxi drivers blockaded some roads to try to prevent further pillaging.