Unrest in South Africa was ‘planned’, says President Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa claimed Friday that deadly violence and looting had been planned that shook the country for the past week as he arrived at the epicenter of the unrest.

“It’s pretty clear that all these incidents of unrest and looting were instigated, there were people planning and coordinating it,” Ramaphosa said.

“We are going after them, we have identified a large number of them and we will not allow anarchy and chaos to unfold in our country,” he told reporters.

Shopping centers and warehouses have been looted in two provinces, fueling fears of shortages and dealing a devastating blow to the economy. At least 117 people have died, some shot and others killed in looting.

Ramaphosa’s visit to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province was his first on the spot since unrest – the worst in post-apartheid South Africa – broke out in the southeastern province before spreading to Johannesburg.

Protests broke out on July 9, a day after ex-President Jacob Zuma, who enjoys support from the poor and loyalists in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), began serving a 15-month prison term for rejecting a corruption investigation.

The protests soon turned into looting as crowds looted shops and warehouses and dragged goods away while police stood by, seemingly powerless to act.

The government said on Thursday that one of the suspected instigators has been arrested and 11 are under surveillance.

Ramaphosa will make “a surveillance visit (in KZN) to assess the impact of recent public violence and the deployment of security forces,” his office said earlier.

On Wednesday, the government called in about 25,000 troops to deal with the emergency — 10 times the number it initially deployed and equal to about a third of the country’s active military personnel.

Ministers of Defence, Security and Police and the highest army corps went to KZN on Wednesday to assess the situation and oversee the extensive deployment of security forces there.

‘Unparalleled emergency’

Although relative calm has returned to Johannesburg, the situation in KZN remains “unstable,” a minister in Ramaphosa’s office, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, told a news conference on Thursday.

Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), a respected business lobby group, has called on the government to impose a 24-hour curfew to quickly contain the unrest.

“This is an emergency unparalleled in our democratic history and requires immediate action by the state,” it said in a statement on Thursday.

“We believe this should include a rigorously enforced curfew in specific areas to clear the streets and allow law enforcement to regain control,” it said.

It echoed Ramaphosa’s fears of disruption to supply chains, including energy, food and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Analysts estimate that thousands of businesses have been looted in what the minister described as “economic sabotage,” the mastermind behind 12 suspects.

One of the alleged instigators has been arrested, while the other 11 are under increased police surveillance, Ntshavheni said.

A total of 2,203 people were arrested during the unrest for various crimes, including theft.


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