Arrests, deaths double as isolated looting and vandalism spread beyond Gauteng and KZN

The continued unrest which has gripped parts of South Africa since the weekend has left 72 people dead while more 1 200 have been arrested. The fatalities include Meshack Mahlangu from the Ekurhuleni metro police department in Gauteng, who was killed while responding to violent protests.  

The protests initially started on Friday as a show of anger against the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court, but degenerated into widespread looting initially in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal before spreading to parts of Gauteng

On Monday, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist the police in enforcing law and order in areas affected by the unrest. 

In its 24-hour report on Tuesday, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints), which coordinates the country’s security and law enforcement operations, said the number of arrests had risen to 1 234, of which 549 were in KwaZulu-Natal and 683 in Gauteng. 

Those arrested included two on-duty reservist constables in Gauteng who were allegedly found in possession of property stolen during the looting of businesses in Soweto.

Isolated incidents of looting and vandalism spread to the Mpumalanga and Northern Cape provinces on Monday evening. 

“There has been a report from Mpumalanga of an incident of looting and destruction of property in the Matsulu policing precinct with one person in custody,” Natjoints said on Tuesday evening. 

“There has also been a report of two incidents in the Northern Cape, Galeshewe, where one person has been arrested.”

On Wednesday, national police communication officer Major General Mathapelo Peters told the Mail & Guardian that she could not yet confirm whether more such incidents had occurred.

Natjoints said law enforcement officers in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape were patrolling “identified areas of threat to deter possible opportunistic criminality”.

“For now it is quiet,” Northern Cape police spokesperson Colonel Mashay Gamieldien told the M&G.

People rally to prevent looting

All provincial commissioners activated the police’s social crime prevention strategy by having discussions with community-based organisations, traditional leaders and the business community to help prevent looting and acts of vandalism. 

On Tuesday, the member of the executive council for agriculture in Mpumalanga, Mandla Msibi mobilised men to protect the Emoyeni mall from looters. 

Similar incidents have been reported nationwide where community groups and residents have stood with law enforcement to safeguard shopping centres and local retail shops.

Of the 72 people who have lost their lives as a result of the unrest, police are investigating 33 cases of murder.

“The greater part of the inquest dockets — totalling 39 — relate to stampedes that occurred during incidents of looting of shops and malls; while other deaths and injuries were related to ATM explosions and shooting,” Natjoints said in its latest report.

The public has been urged to report incidents of crime on the Crime Stop number 08600 10111.

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