South Africa riots have claimed 72 lives

South African police said Tuesday (July 13) that 72 people have died in riots and looting amid a wave of protests sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.

Violence erupted last week as former President Zuma began serving his sentence. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court.

It was the worst unrest in South Africa in years, with looters vandalizing malls and other retail stores and businesses in Gauteng province, including the country’s largest city, Johannesburg. Looting and attacks also occurred in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal and in Soweto. Security forces appear unable to stop them.

However, protesters also took to the streets to express their discontent with the economic hardships that have intensified during the pandemic over the past year.

As the death toll rose, South Africa announced the deployment of thousands of troops to reinforce police in the two provinces who were overwhelmed.

Police said Tuesday that most of the deaths were the result of crowd stampedes that occurred during looting incidents. More than 1,000 people have been arrested since the demonstrations broke out last week.

President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke to the nation Monday night, condemning the violence and looting and calling for calm.

“The path of violence, looting and anarchy will only lead to more violence and destruction,” he said.

But the Zuma Foundation said Tuesday that there will be no peace as long as the former anti-apartheid crusader remains behind bars.

“Peace and stability in South Africa is directly linked to the immediate release of President Zuma,” the Zuma Foundation tweeted.

Zuma was found guilty of disobeying a court order to refuse to testify in court. This was in connection with a government-backed investigation into allegations of corruption during his nine-year tenure as president. Zuma’s presidency ends in 2018.

Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula told reporters at a news conference that she did not believe the current situation warranted the imposition of a state of emergency.

Zuma’s lawyers argued before South Africa’s Constitutional Court on Monday that Zuma’s sentence should be quashed. The judges said they would consider the defense’s arguments and would announce their decision at a later date.