Triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma last week, after he failed to appear at a corruption inquiry, protests in South Africa have widened into an orgy of looting and an outpouring of anger over the hardship and inequality that persist in South Africa for 27 years after the end of apartheid.
More than 70 people have been killed in the unrest, the worst in South Africa for years, and hundreds of businesses wrecked. Food and fuel supplies are running short.
Shopping malls and warehouses have been ransacked or set ablaze in several cities, mostly in Zuma’s home in the KwaZulu-Natal province, especially the Indian Ocean port city of Durban, and the financial and economic centre Johannesburg and surrounding Gauteng province.
But in signs of a public backlash, residents in some areas on Wednesday turned suspected looters over to the police, blocked entrances to malls and in some cases armed themselves as vigilantes to form roadblocks or scare them away.
In Vosloorus, southern Johannesburg, minibus taxi operators, many of whom have guns, fired bullets into the air to scare off looters.
“We can’t just allow people from nowhere to come and loot here,” said Paul Magolego, Vosloorus taxi association spokesman, adding that taxi drivers had had no business since Monday because of the unrest.
Underscoring the inherent dangers of such vigilantism, a 14-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet in Vosloorus. Magolego said the taxi owners arrived on the scene after he was dead.
Citizens armed with guns, many from South Africa’s white minority, blocked off streets to prevent further plundering, in Durban.
Others were forming online groups to help clean up and rebuild devastated neighbourhoods.
Security forces say they have arrested more than 1,200 people, while President Cyril Ramaphosa met political party leaders on Wednesday to discuss the unrest.
The violence appeared to have abated in some areas, but in others, there was renewed burning and looting.
The government said 208 incidents of looting and vandalism were recorded on Wednesday, as the number of soldiers deployed to support police doubled to 5,000.
But Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula later told parliament she had “submitted a request for deployment of plus-minus 25,000” soldiers. Troop deployments are authorised by the president.