President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday his government would not allow “anarchy and mayhem” to prevail in South Africa after violence this week which he suggested had been deliberately provoked.
Ramaphosa made the remarks when he visited Ethekwini Municipality, which includes the port city Durban, one of the areas worst hit in a week of looting and arson that destroyed hundreds of businesses and killed more than 100 people.
The president said the government was doing everything it could to deal with unrest which he said had severely dented investor confidence and hit South Africa’s economic recovery.
“We will not allow anarchy and mayhem,” Ramaphosa said.
As violence appeared to be abating, companies were working to restart operations and calm was returning in parts of the commercial capital Johannesburg, though most shops remained shut.
The long-term social and economic cost of the unrest was becoming clearer, with calls for the government to address underlying problems to head off more violence and despair.
The rioting broke out in several parts of the country following the jailing of Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, last week for his failure to appear at a corruption inquiry.
It swiftly degenerated into looting and destruction, driven by widespread anger over the poverty and inequality that persist nearly three decades after the end of white minority rule.
Ramaphosa said in Durban that it was quite clear the incidents were “instigated” and “we are after these people”. He did not specify whom.
He expressed concern about rising racial tensions in some parts of the country. Some white minority and Indian communities – who are generally better off than Blacks – had armed themselves to fight off rioters.
His office said he would also visit KwaZulu-Natal province, one of the flashpoints and the heartland of support for Zuma, to assess the impact of the violence and the deployment of security forces.
The military has called up all its reservists to bolster the army and police, with a total of 25,000 troops available to go to flashpoints.
Pockets of unrest remained on Friday, and eNCA television reported that a business park was torched overnight in Isipingo, a town south of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
The official death toll stood at 91 in KwaZulu-Natal, and 26 in Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg, making a total of 117 killed.
COUNTING THE COST
The ransacking of stores has left food and other essentials in short supply.
State logistics group Transnet said operations at Durban and Richards Bay ports were improving though road closures and fuel and food shortages were constraining its supply chain.
“The Port of Richards Bay has managed to clear all shipping backlogs,” Transnet said.
Retailer Massmart said protesters had looted 41 of its stores and two distribution centres, with four sites suffering significant damage from arson, during the unrest.
The government has characterised the violence as criminality.
But the Nelson Mandela Foundation – a legacy of the late leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and South Africa’s first Black president – said violence had been growing at “disturbing levels” in the last two decades and was now regarded as normal.
The state has focused on strengthening law enforcement but neglected strategies to tackle the problems’ roots, it said.
“There are too many people feeling discarded and in despair, too many people with nothing to lose, too many people who have seen political and other elites at all levels play fast and loose with the law, with impunity,” the foundation said.
The head of Statistics South Africa, Risenga Maluleke, said it could take years to rebuild damaged infrastructure, and small businesses “will find it difficult to rise from the ashes”.
This would lead to even more unemployment, he said. Most of the people in the streets were youths with few job prospects and limited education opportunities.
“There is no doubt that this generation is bound from birth to death with poverty and unemployment,” he said.
Half of South Africans live below the official poverty line and unemployment stood at a record 32% in the first three months of 2021, due partly to the impact of COVID-19.
Zuma, 79, was sentenced last month for defying an order to give evidence at a judicial inquiry probing high-level graft during his time in office from 2009 to 2018.
He has pleaded not guilty in a separate case on charges including corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering, saying he is the victim of a political witch-hunt.
His downfall has opened up a power struggle within the African National Congress (ANC), in power since the end of apartheid in 1994. Zuma loyalists make up the strongest faction opposed to Ramaphosa.