Stores and warehouses in South Africa were hit by looters on Tuesday for a fifth day running despite President Cyril Ramaphosa deploying troops to quell unrest that has killed at least 72 people.
Protests that followed the arrest of former leader Jacob Zuma last week for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry have widened into looting and an outpouring of general anger over the hardship and inequality that persist 27 years after the end of apartheid.
Poverty has been exacerbated by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Security officials said the government was working to halt the spread of the violence and looting, which has spread from Zuma’s home in KwaZulu-Natal province to the country’s biggest city Johannesburg and surrounding Gauteng province, and to the Indian Ocean port city of Durban.
The armed forces were sending 2,500 soldiers to help the overwhelmed police. But these numbers are dwarfed by the deployment of more than 70,000 soldiers to enforce last year’s coronavirus lockdown, and only a handful of them were seen at some shopping centres.
“The total number of people who have lost their lives since the beginning of these protests … has risen to 72,” the police said in a statement late on Tuesday.
Most of the deaths “relate to stampedes that occurred during incidents of looting of shops”, it said.
Others were linked to shootings and explosions of bank ATMs.
The number of arrests has risen to 1,234, although many thousands have been involved in the ransacking sprees.