JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Crowds have clashed with police and ransacked or set ablaze shopping malls in cities across South Africa, with dozens of people reported killed, as grievances unleashed by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma boiled over into the worst violence in years.
Protests that followed Zuma’s arrest last week for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry have widened into looting and an outpouring of general anger over the hardship and inequality that persist 27 years after the end of apartheid.
Poverty has been exacerbated by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Security officials said the government was working to halt the spread of the violence and looting, which has spread from Zuma’s home in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province to the country’s biggest city Johannesburg and surrounding Gauteng province, and to the Indian Ocean port city of Durban.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) said late Tuesday that as many as 72 people have lost their lives and 1,234 people have been arrested in the last few days of protests which have now turned into rampant looting and riots.
There have been reports of sporadic violence in two others provinces as well and “law enforcement officers patrolling identified areas of threat in an effort to deter possible opportunistic criminality,” SAPS said.
Soldiers have been sent onto the streets to try to contain the unrest.
Zuma, 79, was sentenced last month for defying a constitutional court order to give evidence at an inquiry investigating high-level corruption during his nine years in office until 2018.
He also faces trial in a separate case on charges including corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. He pleaded not guilty in court in May.
Zuma’s foundation said there would be no peace in South Africa until the former president was released from jail.