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Riots, looting and unbridled unrest continued for a sixth straight day in South Africa Wednesday, claiming nearly 100 lives and leading to food, fuel and medical supply shortages amid a vicious third wave of the coronavirus.
So far, official figures show 72 people have died and more than 1,200 people have been arrested after violent protests broke out following the arrest of ex-president Jacob Zuma and the start of his 15-month prison sentence for contempt.
“I call for peace,” the king of South Africa’s Zulu community — the locale’s largest ethnic group — said during a televised speech Wednesday.
“This chaos is destroying the economy, and it is the poor who will suffer the most,” he said as he called for restraint.
For nearly a week, looters have ravaged shops, malls and warehouses and are turning their sights on farms where livestock have been reported stolen and sugarcane fields in KwaZulu-Natal, the country’s primary cane growing area, were set ablaze.
Outside of a looted mall in a Johannesburg suburb, once a symbol of the country’s emerging middle class, the dead body of a man was seen lying in a pool of his own blood, covered up by a cardboard box for a large TV. Inside the shopping center, grandmothers, young people and even children picked over merchandise like buzzards as they climbed through ravaged store fronts and used their cell phones as flashlights.
“I’m not stealing, I’m hungry,” a mother inside the mall said.
“We don’t break, we take.”
Another man, scurrying away with a grin and a bag over his shoulders, said he’d taken shoes for his children.
Outside of the mall, when a group of youths putting on stolen clothes were asked about Zuma’s imprisonment — the initial trigger for the unrest — they burst out laughing.
“Free Zuma! Outside Zuma!” they yelled.
“You see, we are busy protesting here.”
The looting and unrest, the most serious crisis seen since apartheid ended 30 years ago, has dealt a detrimental blow to the South African economy, which had already been decimated by strict, anti-COVID measures.
Across the country, grocery stores and gas stations saw hours-long lines after logistics operators and refineries were forced to declare a “force majeure” — an emergency beyond its control — and shut down because employees haven’t been able to get to work.
“We need the restoration of law and order as soon as possible, because we are going to have a massive humanitarian crisis,” Christo van der Rheede, the executive director of the nation’s largest farmers’ organization AgriSA, said in an interview.
“It’s inevitable that we will have fuel shortages in the next couple of days or weeks,” added Layton Beard, the spokesman for South Africa’s Automobile Association.
Meanwhile, as the country buckles under a third coronavirus wave, doctors offices have been forced to close and vaccinations suspended because staff have been unable to get to work.
“The urgency of ensuring that health facilities and supplies are not targeted during social unrest and violence is crucial, even more so during the height of the current wave of COVID-19 infections,” Philip Aruna, the head of Doctors Without Borders in southern Africa, said.
Richard Friedland, the CEO of local medical group Netcare, said protest related injuries, mostly from trampling, has further hampered an already constrained healthcare system.
With Post Wires
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