The unrest and looting in South Africa, which has claimed more than 200 lives in recent days, was “planned and coordinated” by people seeking to provoke “an insurgency” in the country, the South African President said Friday. , Cyril Ramaphosa.

For several days, the coastal region of Kwazulu-Natal (KZN, East) and the economic capital Johannesburg were caught in a whirlwind of theft and violence. The first incidents, tires burned and roads blocked, erupted last week in Zulu country, the day after the imprisonment of ex-president Jacob Zuma, convicted of contempt of justice, in this region which is his stronghold.

The violence then spread, against a backdrop of economic crisis and endemic unemployment: warehouses, factories and shopping centers were methodically stormed by looters. A total of 212 people were killed, including 180 in Zulu country.

“Those who are behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection within our people”, declared Cyril Ramaphosa in a speech to the Nation broadcast on television. Stating that it was now clear that this was “a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack”, he added that the aim of the instigators was “to cripple the economy, cause social instability and ‘seriously weaken’ the state.

“They sought to manipulate the poor and vulnerable for their own interests,” he added, without further specifying his accusations.

The situation returned to near normal in Johannesburg on Friday, however, with no incidents to report in the past 24 hours, authorities said.

Admitting that the government was “ill prepared for an orchestrated operation of violence, destruction and sabotage of this nature”, Mr. Ramaphosa, who visited the KZN earlier today, assured that “everything will be done to bring these people to justice ”. In total, more than 2,500 people have been arrested to date.

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Police are investigating 12 people suspected of being behind the outbreak of violence. One of them has “already been arrested and increased surveillance concerns the other eleven”, according to the government.

Security experts agree that police and intelligence services failed to prevent recent events. Authorities were “caught off guard,” Institute for Security Studies (ISS) security specialist Gareth Newham told AFP.

South African health officials are also worried that recent crowd movements, especially during looting, are causing a peak in COVID-19 contamination. The country is going through a terribly deadly third wave, fueled by the highly contagious Delta virus.

Calm still precarious

In recent days, fears of fuel and food shortages have gripped some residents. In Durban, on the Indian Ocean, long lines continued to form in front of supermarkets.

“There is no shortage of food or goods in most parts of the country,” assured Cyril Ramaphosa, calling not to worsen the situation by increasing the number of precautionary purchases.

The president also warned against those who would be tempted to take justice into their own hands. In recent days, groups of sometimes armed residents have organized themselves into patrols to protect their neighborhoods, leading to violent abuses.

In Phoenix, near Durban, where at least 20 people have been killed since the start of the week amid racial tensions, men with machetes and rifles stand guard at the entrance to the township, warming up in the heat of the braziers. “Are you looting? So we shoot, ”a masked man told AFP.

“We must beware of” vigilantism “and anything that could further fuel tensions,” warned Cyril Ramaphosa, calling for reliance on the security forces.

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For now, 10,000 soldiers are deployed to try to restore calm, and a total of 25,000 will come to support the police. According to a first official inventory, more than 160 shopping centers were attacked, 11 warehouses, 8 factories and 161 alcohol shops.

In Johannesburg, many continued to clear away the rubble, noted AFP journalists. But the damage is considerable and few traders are insured.

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