South Africa deploys army to quell violence as ex-leader Jacob Zuma faces court
Disturbances worsened as Zuma challenged his 15-month prison term
South Africa deployed soldiers on the streets Monday to quell violence that erupted in the wake of former president Jacob Zuma's jailing, after days of riots left at least six people dead.
Police said disturbances were intensifying and 219 people had been arrested as the controversial ex-leader challenged his 15-month prison term in the country's top court.
Smoke from burning buildings swirled in the air as items from burgled shops lay strewn by the side of the road in Pietermaritzburg in Zuma's home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
The sporadic pro-Zuma protests that broke out when he turned himself in last week have quickly escalated into looting and arson, mainly in KZN but also in Gauteng, where the biggest city is Johannesburg.
Some COVID-19 vaccination sites in Gauteng have closed due to safety concerns, the provincial government said, further delaying a sluggish immunization campaign.
Opportunistic criminals appear to be taking advantage of the anger some feel over Zuma's incarceration to steal and cause destruction, police said.
Zuma, 79, was sentenced late last month for defying a constitutional court order to give evidence at an inquiry investigating high-level corruption during his nine years in office, which ended in 2018.
The decision to jail him resulted from legal proceedings seen as a test of post-apartheid South Africa's ability to enforce the rule of law, including against powerful politicians.
"The South African National Defence Force has commenced with pre-deployment processes ... to assist law enforcement agencies deployed in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces ... to quell the unrest that has gripped both in the last few days," the military said in a statement.
"The duration [of the deployment] and number of deploying soldiers will be determined based on the assessment of the situation on the ground."
President Cyril Ramaphosa plans to address the nation about the violence later on Monday, his office said.
Zuma wants term jail rescinded
In a virtual hearing, Zuma's counsel asked the constitutional court on Monday to rescind his jail term, citing a rule that judgments can be reconsidered if made in the absence of the affected person or containing an obvious error.
Legal experts say Zuma's chances of success are slim.
Footage shot by Reuters in Katlehong township in Gauteng showed police firing rubber bullets at looters to disperse them, as liquor and grocery stores were broken into.
The sale of alcohol is currently banned under restrictions designed to ease pressure on hospitals during a severe third wave of coronavirus infections.
Government intelligence agency NatJOINTS said the bodies of four people had been found — at least two of them with gunshot wounds — in Gauteng. Two deaths had occurred in KZN, and all six were being investigated.
Zuma's imprisonment marks a significant fall from stature for a leading figure in the liberation-movement-turned-ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). He was once jailed by South Africa's pre-1994 white-minority rulers for his efforts to make all citizens equal before the law.
Ramaphosa said on Sunday the violence was damaging efforts to rebuild the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The corruption inquiry that Zuma has refused to co-operate with is examining allegations that he allowed three Indian-born businessmen — Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta — to plunder state resources and peddle influence over government policy. He and the Gupta brothers, who fled the country after his ouster and are believed to be living in Dubai, deny wrongdoing.
Zuma also faces a corruption case relating to a $2 billion arms deal in 1999 when he was deputy president. He denies the charges in that case.