This article appeared on RFI English
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is resisting calls to declare a state of emergency as the nation counts the cost of days of looting and violence.
Former National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli is the latest high profile figure to call for a such a declaration after looters, operating with impunity against outnumbered police, stripped bare the shelves of stores in the coastal province of KwaZulu/Natal and the commercial heartland of Gauteng.
At least 73 people have died in the violence that has cost an estimated two billion rands.
Police have made 1200 arrests.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says a state of emergency will be declared should the need arise.
2500 of her troops have been drafted in to help police.
Carrying assault rifles loaded with sharp point ammunition, they have stopped looters who minutes earlier were taunting police armed with teargas and rubber bullets.
Police Minister Bheki Cele, visting the ruins of a mall in Alexandra, which neighbors salubrious Sandton, says the emphasis now has to be on preventing further anarchy.
“It would have been better had this not happened,” he said pointing to the burned out shops, “but the fact that it did does not mean we cannot prevent it happening again.”
The looting was initially ascribed to protests against the jailing last week of ex-President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.
Ramaphosa has condemned the exploitation of ethnic differences with Zuma’s Zulu tribe in KwaZulu/Natal
Analysts and community leaders, however, say the anarchy is spread by the desperation of people facing unemployment and grinding poverty exacerbated by the COVID pandemic lockdown and by rampant criminality as people realize they can grab what they want without consequences.
Cele says the authorities have identified a dozen people who have exploited this and used social media to instigate violence snd disorder.
State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo says they are investigating a sinister third force of former state security agents loyal to Zuma using their insider knowledge to stoke the flames of unrest.
Traffic along the arterial highway between Johannesburg and Durban has been stopped for a week. At least 40 trucks have been torched and used to block the road.
This means that the stores stripped by the looters will take weeks to resupply once the trucks are able to move.
The break in the supply chain has also affected the COVID vaccination programme that began hesitantly and late in the African country worst his by the pandemic.
Fear of the violence has closed the SAPREF petrol refinery that supplies a third of South Africa’s fuel.
Motorists have began queuing to fill their vehicles.
Ramaphosa will meet political leaders today, seeking bipartisan support against the anarchy.
He met with business leaders yesterday and with the State Security Council.
Communities are stepping up to protect their neighborhoods and shopping malls.
Armed private security firms in the wealthier neighborhoods have thus far managed to ensure that malls under their protection are not among the 200 that have been gutted.