Durban (dpa) – Burning blockades, gunfire, chaos and powerless police officers: The economic center of South Africa around Johannesburg and the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal has been raging for days.
There have been deaths and injuries, shopping centers on fire and highways and major roads blocked. They bring important logistics chains to a halt, as well as buses and trains in Africa’s strongest economy. The willingness to use force is shocking.
The days of violent protests continued in South Africa on Tuesday. Although the military has begun patrols in the affected regions – Gauteng province around Johannesburg and the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal – the arson and looting continued unimpeded, in some cases on camera, according to government reports. The number of victims also increased. At least 72 people have been killed in the riots, a spokeswoman for the NatJOINTS special security forces unit said Tuesday evening. The prime ministers of the two provinces involved had previously spoken of 45 dead.
Given the overwhelming number of looters, the police intervened relatively late in many places. About 1,250 arrests have been made so far. The estimated damage is now at 1 billion rand (60 million euros), according to the Prime Minister of Kwa-Zulu Natal province, Sihle Zikalala. Police Minister Bheki Cele warned local residents not to take the law into their own hands. State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo reported that security forces are also investigating reports of attacks on foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal province and tensions between different groups.
What started as a protest against the imprisonment of ex-president Jacob Zuma has grown into large-scale riots within days. These would have disrupted key supply chains that within weeks could “expose South Africa to a high risk of food and drug insecurity,” President Cyril Ramaphosa warned in a televised address Monday night. This can have life-threatening consequences, especially during the corona pandemic.
The northern province of Gauteng with the economic metropolis of Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria, as well as Zuma’s eastern home province KwaZulu-Natal are particularly affected. In the port city of Durban, which is particularly hard hit there, the city council announced on Tuesday that protests with city services, such as the water supply, could cause problems. Urgent repair work could not be carried out.
“It looks like a sale shortly after Christmas,” said a reporter who, along with police, watched crowds of people. Eyewitnesses reported on camera of people hitting middle-class cars and taking refrigerators, beds, clothes, shoes or even furniture. The law enforcement officers had to watch helplessly in view of the overwhelming numbers or take cover from stone-throwers. Looters played cat and mouse and returned as soon as the police left.
Everything you could take with you was taken: mobile phones, TVs, bags full of groceries, but also doors or cash registers. Even a photo of a young man with a dildo in his hand made the rounds on social media. There – for example in Durban – neighborhood aid was organized to prevent anarchy from spreading to the residential areas. According to the German consulate, there are nearly 5,000 Germans living in the local province of KwaZulu-Natal – and about three times the number of so-called “Springbok Germans” – South Africans of German descent. “Our community is on standby — they’re even burning down sugar farms,” said Chris Schädle, who runs his restaurant “Siggi’s” in the coastal town of Salt Rock.
In the port city of Durban, for example, a celebration of the German school was overshadowed by the violence. Aerial photos from the TV station eNCA show several large warehouses and shopping centers going up in flames, while people with apparently looted goods left the premises on the ground. People ran from a hardware store with building materials over an empty highway. The TV reporter in the helicopter spoke of “apocalyptic scenes” and only saw a police car at the scene – the army was also not in sight.
Hostile sentiment towards the media
A little further on, a completely blocked highway with fully loaded cars from a shopping center could be seen. Similar images of the devastation were also seen from the air from Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg. Journalists reported that there was a hostile atmosphere towards media representatives and that a journalist’s camera had been stolen. “This country is destroying itself,” said former Home Secretary Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who is from KwaZulu-Natal province around Durban. “South Africa is at war with itself – it breaks my heart,” he said.
The city of Durban has one of the main ports on the continent – the N3 highway from Durban to the industrial center around Johannesburg is one of the main transport axes in the country. It is now closed indefinitely, given the many trucks that have flared up. President Ramaphosa warned that Covid-19 vaccination campaigns and food security are at risk.
Zuma’s incarceration was considered a milestone
Although Nelson Mandela’s dream of a peaceful rainbow nation has been clouded time and again in the past by excesses of violence against Africans from other parts of the continent, a nightmare is now looming. “Ramaphosa tells us he is out of control,” opposition spokesman for Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Vuyani Pemba said in a TV interview. The president is fighting on multiple fronts: on the one hand, he must stop the galloping number of infections in what is now the third wave of corona infections, and on the other, he must reform his African National Congress (ANC). , who under the tenure of his predecessor Jacob Zuma became increasingly trapped in the mire of a clique of customers and favorites. Zuma’s imprisonment was therefore an important milestone for the fledgling democracy.
In addition, the head of state urgently needs to create jobs. Because one of the strictest curfews in the world has exacerbated the pre-pandemic economic crisis in the Cape. Entire industries – for example in the tourism sector – were groaning under restrictions. Many companies gave up. Those who persevered are now confronted with new concerns: shop fittings destroyed, goods looted, no more money in the till. Many jobs are in danger of disappearing. The military is now supposed to enforce security with the police – which in turn doesn’t please populist EFF politician Julius Malema. He announced protests from his supporters in case of mobilization.