Sadness, anger in South Africa as unrest death toll rises to 45

Tuesday July 13 2021

A South African Police Services (SAPS) officer aims at looters following sporadic looting and vandalism outside the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, East of Johannesburg, on July 12, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


A wave of sadness and anger is sweeping through South Africa as the death toll from unrest raging in the country shot up to 45, with looting and violence leaving shops and entire malls stripped of goods, torched and devastated.

According to the authorities, 19 were killed in Gauteng province and 26 in KwaZulu-Natal.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said that at least 787 people had been arrested.

Both Cele and President Cyril Ramaphosa, who addressed South Africans late Monday for the second day in a row as rioting continued to escalate, emphasised that the trend would not be allowed to continue.

Officers from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) have been deployed in affected parts of the greater Johannesburg area, as well as impacted cities and areas of KwaZulu-Natal.


An elderly woman screams as she is arrested by a police member following looting and vandalism at the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, east of Johannesburg, on July 12, 2021. PHOTO | AFP

Southeastern KwaZulu-Natal, former President Jacob Zuma's home region, is the epicentre of the unrest. Protests erupted last week shortly after Zuma started serving a 15-month term for snubbing a probe into the corruption that stained his nine years in power.

Runaway looting

Complicating policing efforts is that many looters were children, as evidenced by a handful of youths caught with armfuls of stolen goods at a mall in Soweto, which neighbours Johannesburg. The shopping complex was ravaged by looters overnight.

Some shop-owners in Soweto and other affected high-density suburbs who had averted looting Monday found their businesses destroyed this morning.

One man, whose sons owned a shop serving Soweto residents which was entirely gutted, even of shelving, was on the verge of tears as plastic bags of remnants left by the mob were gathered.

"This is the work of our own people. That is what is hardest. Everything we have worked for is gone."

Overwhelmed police

Local analysts have noted that the looting sprees have had the greatest impact in areas serving the poorest communities. The majority of businesses damaged or destroyed are also owned by people who live in the communities from which the looters emerged in their thousands.

Security sources said police crime intelligence and state security agents were taken by surprise, both by the coordinated nature of initial politically-inspired protests around Zuma's jailing for contempt, and by the subsequent looting and destruction which has followed.

Local media is awash with reports and scenes of mobs overwhelming police efforts, flowing away from officers attempting to disperse them with rubber bullets, only to assault shops and malls from different directions.

News channels have shown almost non-stop scenes of people of all ages streaming into malls and then emerging with as much as they can carry, in some cases too much, such as the man seen battling his way down a road after looting a large fridge which he was attempting to move on his own. In the background, scattered police stand by awaiting reinforcements.


A member of the South African Police Services (SAPS) arrests a looter inside the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, East of Johannesburg, on July 12, 2021. PHOTO | AFP

Security sources told Nation.Africa that while the police and army would "not shoot looters on sight", they reckoned it had become clear that a tougher response was needed to end the looting.

This story has been updated. The earlier one had the death toll at 32.