South Africa deployed soldiers on Monday to quell the violence that erupted after the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma, after days of unrest left at least six people dead.
Police said the riots had intensified when Zuma challenged his 15-month prison sentence to the country’s highest court.
The sporadic pro-Zuma protests that erupted when it was handed over last week have increased in looting and arson, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal, but also in Gauteng, where Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, is located.
Some COVID-19 vaccination sites and clinics in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were closed due to security concerns, according to the Gauteng provincial government and an association of independent pharmacies, which further delayed a slow campaign. of vaccination.
“What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of crime, with groups of people instigating chaos only as protection against looting and theft,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a speech on Monday night.
He said 489 suspects from the two provinces had been arrested and all government agencies had been mobilized.
“We will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute those who perpetrate these actions and we will make sure that they confront our entire law.”
He warned that looting of malls, pharmacies and disruption of supply chains could lead to food and medicine shortages in the coming weeks, as well as disruption to coronavirus vaccine collection.
An army statement said “pre-deployment processes had begun” following a request for assistance from a government intelligence agency.
Any confrontation with soldiers runs the risk of feeding Zuma and his supporters who are victims of a politically motivated repression of his successor, Ramaphosa.
Zuma, 79, was convicted late last month of challenging a constitutional court order to testify in an investigation investigating high-level corruption during his nine-year term until 2018.
The decision to imprison him resulted from a court proceeding seen as a test of South Africa’s post-apartheid capacity to enforce the rule of law, even against powerful politicians.