PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa has deployed the military to assist the police quell protests against the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma that turned violent, leaving at least six persons dead and many businesses and homes destroyed.
In an address on Monday evening, Ramaphosa said the destruction and looting of properties by criminal elements who hijacked the protest was unprecedented.
“What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft.
“As the Commander-in-Chief of the South African Defense Force, I have today authorised the deployment of Defense Force personnel in support of the operations of the South African Police Service,” Ramaphosa said.
Violent protests erupted in KZN province during the weekend following the detention of Zuma at the Estcourt Correctional Centre in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal last Wednesday after he turned himself in to avoid a forceful arrest by the police.
CARS were burnt and businesses belonging to both locals and foreign nationals were looted and destroyed by angry protesters.
At least five businesses belonging to Nigerians were affected.
Zuma, 79, was handed a 15-month jail sentence on 29 June for contempt of court after he failed to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption during his nine-year tenure.
The former president filed an appeal on Friday calling the sentence he received ‘cruel and degrading’ and asking the court to annul its decision.
President of the Nigerians Union South Africa (NUSA) Adetola Olubajo said on Monday after a fact-finding trip that more than 18 trucks were set ablaze, businesses looted and properties damaged.
“These violent looting and attacks are spreading rapidly to other areas of Gauteng and Kwa Zulu Natal Province with cars burnt and businesses belonging to both locals and foreign nationals looted and destroyed.
“We have identified five businesses belonging to Nigerians that were looted and destroyed on Sunday by the angry mob in Johannesburg. The looting and destruction of property has continued unabated till today (Monday),” Olubajo said.
He added that the South African Police seemed overwhelmed by the massive crowd and that the situation was worsening.
More than 200 shopping malls had been looted by mid-Monday afternoon and retailers had lost an estimated R2 billion, according to the Chief Executive Officer of Business Leadership South Africa Busisiwe Mavuso.
The protest has also disrupted trade as the N3 highway that links Johannesburg to sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest port in Durban has been closed and companies with branches in protest-hit areas have shutdown their operations.
The Police have arrested 489 suspects – 166 in KwaZulu-Natal province and 323 suspects in Gauteng province- as President Ramaphosa said his government would ensure that those who perpetrated acts of criminality would face the full might of the law.