South Africa struggles to contain its worst unrest in decades

South Africa’s security forces are working hard to contain the spreading riots, and in the scenes of violence that President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted “rarely [been] Seen in the history of our democracy”.

The direct fuse of the violence was the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court last week for his refusal to participate in a corruption investigation during his nine-year tenure.

Zuma still receives strong support in the ruling African National Congress and his hometown of KwaZulu-Natal. He denies all wrongdoing and says that these allegations are politically motivated.

South African National Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo (Ayanda Dlodlo) said at a briefing on Tuesday that South Africa’s domestic spy agency is investigating whether its former agents were in KwaZulu-Natal out of loyalty to Zuma. The violence was carefully planned. A major business family related to Zuma denied this week that it was behind the unrest. The province is the power base of the former president and has a long history of political violence.

Although analysts believe that the violence may have been instigated by Zuma’s supporters at first, the high youth unemployment rate and the economic damage caused by the epidemic have also contributed to robbery and riots. The riots that started in KwaZulu-Natal province later spread to other areas, including Gauteng, the economic center of Johannesburg.

The governor of KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikalala, said on Tuesday that 26 people have been confirmed dead in the province so far. After the robbery occurred in Durban, the largest city in the province, long lines formed outside the few supermarkets that were still open. The main N3 highway from Durban to Johannesburg, the main economic artery of South Africa and the region, was basically closed on Tuesday. The governor of Gauteng Province, David Makhura, said 19 people have died in the province, 10 of whom were killed in the Soweto stampede.

Hundreds of looters also looted industrial warehouses on the outskirts of Durban, which is one of the busiest shipping ports in Africa. A chemical plant in the area was also set on fire.

Ramaphosa ordered the deployment of as many as 2,500 soldiers to support the police on Monday, saying that South Africans “feel anxiety and fear” about the collapse of society. “This is not who we are as South Africans. This is not us,” he said in a televised speech on Monday.

But on Tuesday there were few signs of committing to military deployments on the streets, and the South African government was severely criticized for the police’s slow response to the insecurity situation. John Steenhuisen, the leader of the main opposition Democratic League, said: “It is precisely because our law enforcement agencies failed to control and do their own work early that allowed the situation to develop to this point.”

South Africa’s high unemployment rate and severe economic fragmentation after apartheid provided a gunpowder box for violence, and the pandemic pushed many people further below the poverty line, making the situation worse. As the medical center was forced to close, the already slow pace of vaccination stopped. In the first three months of this year, the official unemployment rate was close to 33%.

The rand’s exchange rate against the US dollar fell more than 1% to 14.59 on Tuesday, as traders bet that the riots would undermine the country’s economic recovery. The currency has fallen 3% so far this week, at its lowest level since early April.

A South African television station showed the scene of the robbers escaping from the police car, and the police were watching. Ramaphosa said: “At this moment, we are relieved of what we already know: unemployment, poverty and inequality in our society are unsustainable.” When he spoke late Monday, South African Television The split-screen image of the looters breaking into the blood bank was played.

Additional reporting by Tommy Stubbington in London

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