After a week of incidents in South Africa, marked by riots and looting, a precarious calm reigned on Saturday in the country which continues to clean up the damage caused by violence described by President Ramaphosa as an orchestrated attempt to destabilize the country.
Next to a wall tagged “Free Zuma” and “Fuck Democracy”, residents cleared mounds of rubble near a burnt down shopping center in the suburbs of Durban, on the Indian Ocean. AFP journalists.
Security guard Sikhumukani Hongwane was working when the center was attacked on Sunday. He says he saw a crowd burn down a nearby garage and fled himself. “We are afraid, even now,” he admits.
The first incidents, tires burned and roads blocked, erupted last week, the day after the incarceration of ex-president Jacob Zuma, convicted of contempt of justice, in his stronghold of Kwazulu-Natal (KZN, East).
Then warehouses, factories and malls were methodically stormed by looters and violence spread to the country’s largest city Johannesburg, amid rampant unemployment and new anti-COVID restrictions. More than 200 people have died, 2,500 have been arrested.
But after a week of incidents, among the worst since the advent of this young democracy, a fragile calm has emerged on Saturday. No incidents reported in Johannesburg. And even in Zulu country, where pockets of violence resisted, fueled by racial tensions, a lull is looming.
” In distress “
“Under the pretext of a political grievance, the perpetrators of these acts sought to provoke a popular uprising,” Cyril Ramaphosa accused Friday evening, addressing South Africans.
Several government officials have already openly accused supporters of Mr. Zuma of having remote-controlled the attacks. Police are investigating 12 people suspected of being the brains of the operation, according to the government, without further details.
In Kwazulu-Natal, the effects of the destruction of hundreds of businesses are being felt, worsened by supply difficulties with transport cut off for several days. The highway connecting Johannesburg and Durban was only reopened on Saturday.
Residents said they were running out of bread, and food distributions were organized. “We sent food to hospitals which had nothing to give to their patients,” Imitiaz Sooliman, of the Gift of the Givers association, told AFP, adding that the convoys are escorted by armed men. .
“Nothing could get in or out, thousands of businesses were in distress,” Zanele Khomo of the Durban Chamber of Commerce told AFP, where “even the port was at a standstill”. According to him, the amount of damage in the province amounts to around 940 million euros.
In Indaba near Durban, the only stores that were spared only open a few hours. “There are endless queues, as if we were going to vote,” quipped Siyanda Nxumalo, a community activist who denounces “a mess”.
It will take “time” before a return to normal, warned Mr Ramaphosa. And this “will affect the availability of food, fuel, medicine and other goods, not only in South Africa, but also throughout the region,” he warned.
The authorities have been widely criticized for failing to prevent the violence. The head of state admitted that the government was “ill-prepared”, while promising that those responsible would be punished. “We will not allow anyone to destabilize our country and get away with it,” he said.
Some 10,000 troops have been deployed to support an overwhelmed police force. This figure could climb to 25,000 in the coming days.
Already, the hunt for looters has started. The police have stepped up raids, targeting disadvantaged neighborhoods, to recover items suspected of having been stolen during the looting.
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