Six people have been killed and 219 arrested amid an escalation of rioting in Johannesburg, which broke out after the imprisonment of South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma.
Shops and businesses have been looted and vandalised and burning vehicles and debris left across roads.
The violence was triggered last week when Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court.
The 79-year-old had defied a court order to testify before a state-backed inquiry probing allegations of corruption during his term as president from 2009 to 2018.
The Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, is due to hear Zuma’s appeal against the sentence on Monday.
The rioting by Zuma’s supporters started in his home region of KwaZulu-Natal province last week and over the weekend it spread to Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, South Africa‘s largest city.
Sky News Africa correspondent John Sparks, who is in Johannesburg, said it has been “a dramatic day – a tumultuous day” in many South African cities.
“The police have been involved in running skirmishes with residents, protesters and criminal elements, who have basically gone through the central business district and ransacked it. They are greatly outnumbered by the people,” he said.
“They’re using rubber bullets to try and drive them back. The people disperse temporarily, and then they regather, and they come back and begin to loot again. Shops and businesses are finished – there’s nothing left here.”
Sparks said scenes like this had not been seen in South Africa for many years.
“This has been caused in part – or at least triggered – by the arrest of Jacob Zuma, the former president who ran this country for 10 years,” he said.
“Eventually, he was arrested on Thursday and that has triggered protests all over the country.
“Members of his family have come out and publicly supported the violence on Twitter. I don’t think you can describe this violence as protests – it really has turned into looting and criminality.
“Police are outnumbered here… essentially, the police can’t handle this. It’s too much for them.”
As he watched the events unfold on the streets of Johannesburg, he described a shopping mall which had been “invaded” and “everything stripped” from its premises, including cash machines and “anything of value”.
He added: “We have seen three days of protesting, of rioting, of general lawlessness in some of the biggest cities in South Africa.
“What the police have been trying to do is restore a sense of order in the central business district, but they are completely overwhelmed.
“They have been using rubber bullets to drive people back, but as soon as they do so, people come forward again.
“We have now heard that the South African military will be deployed on the streets and, frankly, this sort of scene has been replicated in towns and cities all over the country.”
Sparks said businesses will be “starting from scratch” because of the violence, vandalism and looting.
“It’s obviously a tragedy for the people who own these businesses, who work here – I’m talking about thousands of people who would work here because everything is gone,” he said. “They will be starting from scratch.
“I think it’s important to say that the unemployment rate in South Africa is very high – COVID has been really tough for people.
“We are in the middle of a nasty third wave of infection with high levels of restrictions now in place in the country and people are hungry – this is a developing world country and people are frustrated and angry.”
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