As the death toll continues to rise in KwaZulu-Natal — where 26 people have been killed since riots and looting began at the weekend — premier Sihle Zikalala has welcomed the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist police in stabilising the province.
On Monday 12 July President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the deployment of troops in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal to back up police, who have been overwhelmed by the looters who have taken advantage of the protests calling for the release of former president Jacob Zuma.
However, by Tuesday morning looting was continuing unabated in the KwaZulu-Natal capital, Pietermaritzburg, where troops had been deployed to protect government buildings on Monday.
Shops in the Pietermaritzburg central business district were still being looted, as were shopping malls on the periphery of the city, which has been the scene of organised looting since Sunday night.
In a media address on Tuesday morning, 13 July, Zikalala said that while it would be “good” to see Zuma, who is serving a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court, released, the protests and looting had to stop.
“It would be good to see the former president released but that cannot justify vandalism and violence,” Zikalala said. “Criminality is criminality. Vandalism and stealing from shops are criminal acts and they will be dealt with as criminal acts.”
Zikalala said the riots had all but halted the province’s Covid-19 vaccination roll-out, and had also put hospitals under additional pressure. Supplies of oxygen and other crucial medical equipment were not getting to hospitals, while ambulances had been burned.
“Our people are still sick. Our people are still getting injured … they all need to be attended by health professionals. With the blockades we might start losing lives unnecessarily,” Zikalala said.
“We appeal to the collective conscience of all of those who are trying to render our province ungovernable,” he said.
With tensions escalating in predominantly Indian and white suburbs, where residents have mobilised to defend themselves and their property, Zikalala said residents had a right to do so.
“Our duty as government is for our law enforcement agencies to support these groups and work with them to ensure they work within the law,” Zikalala said. “Communities have a right to defend themselves, but must guard against racialising society through these structures.”
Zikalala said the province had been consulted about the troop deployment, which would secure key infrastructure and the roads in and out of the province, along with areas which were being hard hit by looting.
“We appeal to all of you … to give space to the interventions proposed by the government to bring peace to the province,” Zikalala said. “Let us end this self-destruction we are going through.”