A mother in South Africa was forced to throw her child from a burning building on Tuesday as riots escalated in Durban on the country’s east coast. The child was caught by a group of rescuers who had arrived at the scene to help those trapped in the apartment block in the central business district of Durban, a coastal city in KwaZulu-Natal.
The fire was started by people stealing from shops on the ground floor of the building, reports said. The mother and child were reunited, and the child was believed to be safe.
Violence has erupted across South Africa following the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma after failing to appear before a corruption probe. At least 72 people have been killed and over 1200 arrested following looting and arson attacks that started in Zuma’s home province of Kwa-Zulu Natal after he began his 15-month prison term on Thursday.
Pro-Zuma protesters first hit the streets after the 79-year-old former president handed himself to authorities last Wednesday to begin his sentence. Criminals subsequently took advantage of the situation, the police said. Protests later spread from the former president’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg, in Gauteng, where images have shown homes and buildings on fire. The police had to ask for support from the army.
Many of the deaths in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces “relate to stampedes that occurred during incidents of looting of shops”, the police said in a statement on Tuesday. Thousands of people stole food, electric appliances, liquor and clothing from stores. Some of the deaths were also due to shootings and explosions of bank ATMs, officials said, adding that the government was working to ensure the violence did not spread further.
“No amount of unhappiness or personal circumstances from our people gives the right to anyone to loot, vandalise and do as they please and break the law,” Police Minister Bheki Cele told a news conference.
Although the violence was triggered by the jailing of Zuma, it was fuelled further by frustration over poverty, inequality and the economic effects of Covid-19 restrictions, reports said.
The African Union Commission has condemned the unrest in a statement. “The chairperson calls for [the] urgent restoration of order, peace and stability in the country in full respect of the rule of law. He stresses that failure to do so can have grave impacts not only in the country, but the region as a whole,” African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa appealed for calm this week, saying that “there are those who may be hurt and angry”, but adding “there can never be any justification for such violent, destructive and disruptive actions”.
Zuma was admitted to Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal last Wednesday. It became the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president had been sentenced to prison.
In February, Zuma failed to attend before a corruption investigation conducted by Raymond Zondo, the deputy chief justice. The investigation is looking into accusations of high-level graft. The veteran politician has denied wrongdoing. The corruption investigation was launched by Zuma himself, under pressure from the ruling African National Congress, just before he was deposed in 2018. But he only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout a few days later. He refused to return to court on multiple occasions, citing medical reasons and preparations for a new corruption trial as justifications. In November, he reappeared for a brief appearance but departed before being questioned.
Zuma, in a separate matter, is standing trial on charges of corruption in connection with the acquisition of fighter planes, patrol boats, and military equipment from five European weapons companies for 30 billion rand (about $5 billion) in 1999. Zuma was President Thabo Mbeki’s deputy at the time of the acquisition.
Zuma challenged his jail term in South Africa’s top court on Monday. Aljazeera reports that judgment was reserved until an unspecified date.