JOHANNESBURG (AP) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stood at the entrance of a looted shopping center and surrounded by soldiers and promised to restore order in the country on Friday after a week of violence caused by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
On a visit to the port city of Durban in the hard-hit KwaZulu-Natal province, home of Zuma, Ramaphosa said the chaos and violence that killed more than 200 people had been “planned and coordinated” and that the instigators would be prosecuted tracked.
“We have identified a large number of them and we will not allow anarchy and chaos to spread in our country,” he said. One person was arrested for inciting violence and 11 others are under surveillance, officials said.
As army tanks rolled through the destroyed Bridge City shopping mall, Ramaphosa said the deployment of 25,000 soldiers would end the violence and rampant theft in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces.
The riots in South Africa broke out after Zuma served a 15-month jail sentence for disobeying the court for refusing to obey a court order to testify in a government-sponsored investigation into corruption allegations during his tenure from 2009 to 2018.
The protests quickly escalated to thefts in the township areas. In Durban, rioters attacked retail spaces and industrial centers, emptied warehouses and set them on fire. The burned out grenades smoldered on Friday.
More than 2,500 people were arrested for theft and vandalism and 212 people died, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, acting minister in the presidency, said on Friday. According to the police, many were trampled to death when shops were looted.
The army rollout in KwaZulu-Natal is supposed to restore order in the coastal province within a few days. In the province of Gauteng, which also includes Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and industrial center, an uneasy calm has set in.
“The country is gradually but firmly returning to normal,” said Ntshavheni during a daily press conference on the crisis.
As a sign of a return to stability, two strategic highways connecting the port of Durban with Johannesburg and Cape Town reopened on Friday after being closed for a week, Ntshavheni announced. The riots in South Africa first broke out at the Mooi River toll booth for the N3 motorway, where more than 20 trucks were burned.
The military will patrol the highways, but drivers will be warned to use the road carefully. “It is vitally important to proceed with extreme caution and to remain vigilant at all times,” said the highway authority on Friday in a tweet.
The highways are vital transport routes for fuel, food and other goods. Authorities will work to reopen the railway line to the strategic ports of Durban and Richard’s Bay in the Indian Ocean, which has also been closed by the riots, she said.
One of the country’s largest food manufacturers, Tiger Brands, said it had shut down bakery and food production operations at its hardest-hit locations in KwaZulu-Natal. The company said it lost nearly 150 million rand (about $ 10 million) in shares in the violence.
With the restoration of order in Gauteng, authorities have begun to hold residents accountable. Johannesburg police have begun recovering stolen property and arresting suspects.
According to the South African Banking Risk Information Center, which warned the bills were being won, there has been an increase in people trying to dispense cash tinted green, suggesting the money was stolen from hundreds of ATMs, who were broken into during the riots will not be honored.
To restore respect for the law, the South African Council of Churches has proposed that the government grant a limited amnesty of two weeks during which people can return stolen property to the police and not be charged.
“We need leaders of all faiths everywhere, civic and community leaders, traditional leaders in rural communities, and business and trade unions in the workplace who are all pulling together and pointing the way to restoration,” said Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the ecumenical group , in an open letter. “The soul of South African society is built from the ashes of shame that we experience.”
Rapid action must be taken against those who planned the strategic attacks, said Ronnie Kasrils, veteran anti-apartheid leader and former cabinet secretary.
“These riots are viewed by the government, secret services and the president as an actual conspiracy by a group in support of Jacob Zuma … to unleash civil unrest and really bring the country to its knees,” said Kasrils. “There has been a great deal of planning and conspiracy … there is a need to root out the conspirators and bring the allegations and evidence forward.”
AP journalist Mogomotsi Magome contributed from Johannesburg.
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