Citizens must remain calm and avoid flocking to shops, state says, hinting at “economic sabotage”

Violence, looting and the widespread destruction of key infrastructure continued in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal  on Wednesday despite the presence of the police and army on the streets.

KwaZulu-Natal remains the epicentre of the unrest, with 156 separate incidents of looting and public violence reported and 1 068 arrests made. In Gauteng, 52 incidents were recorded while 686 arrests were made, the acting minister in the presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, told a media briefing.

She did not give a new figure on fatalities, but the previous government update put the number at 72 deaths on Tuesday evening. 

“Law enforcement officers supported by the military are working tirelessly to ensure that the country returns to peace and stability and that those responsible for the instability, are quickly brought to book,” Ntshavheni said.

She confirmed that 5 000 members of the South African National Defence Force  had now been deployed, since the initial deployment of 2 500 on Monday.

Although Ntshavheni did not fully respond to media questions on the motives behind the rampant looting and destruction, she called them “economic sabotage”.

“We are not at liberty to announce who is behind it, because if we do, that will jeopardise the investigation and successful prosecution of all the cases,” she added.

Addressing concerns about the availability of basic food items after many supermarkets were looted and others closed over safety concerns, Ntshavheni said the government was working with the National Consumer Goods Council to ensure food security. 

“Currently there is no shortage of food. Stores have been closed because of the looting. But there is sufficient food,” she said.

The public was urged to refrain from flocking to grocery stores to purchase food, as this could fuel Covid-19 infections and “it will go to uncontrollable levels with the Delta variant that is currently prevailing in our country”, Ntshavheni said.

She also called on citizens who have taken up arms to protect themselves and their property from looters to work with law enforcement agencies and “operate within the rule of law”.

“We all need to speak with one voice to condemn the lawlessness and to work together,” she said.

Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa told leaders of political parties represented in parliament that the government was “intensifying its efforts and working in partnership with civil society to stem public violence affecting various parts of the country”.

During an online consultation meeting that he facilitated, leaders of political parties called for an immediate restoration of calm and order in the affected communities and asked Ramaphosa to keep the army deployed as a deterrent to violence and other forms of lawlessness.

“Leaders urged that major transport routes be secured to allow fuel, food, medical supplies and other necessities to reach communities and that the 9 pm to 4 am curfew be strictly enforced,” a statement from the presidency said.

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