“It is quite clear that all these incidents of unrest and looting were instigated, there were people who planned it and coordinated it,” he said on Friday.
The deadly violence and looting that have rocked South Africa for the past week were planned, President Cyril Ramaphosa has alleged, during his first visit to areas affected by the worst unrest in the country’s post-apartheid era.
The government was doing everything it could to deal with the turmoil, he said, adding that the looting and arson had severely dented investor confidence and hit the country’s economic recovery.
Ramaphosa was speaking in Ethekwini Municipality that includes the port city Durban, one of the areas worst hit by the unrest. At least 117 people have died, some shot and others killed in looting stampedes.
“We are going after them, we have identified a good number of them, and we will not allow anarchy and mayhem to just unfold in our country,” Ramaphosa told reporters.
The president authorised the deployment of 25,000 armed forces members who would be on the streets till Aug. 12, parliament said on Friday.
Police said looting of malls and stores was still going on and foreign-owned shops were being hit.
Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces were still volatile, and crowds had gathered in Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape provinces, police said in a presentation to a parliamentary committee. KawZulu-Natal’s main airport, King Shaka International, was also targeted.
The government said on Thursday that one of the suspected instigators had been arrested and 11 were under surveillance. In all, 2,203 people have been arrested during the unrest for various offences, including theft.
Ramaphosa did admit, however, that his government could have acted “quicker” to prevent the unrest and expressed concerns about growing racial tensions in KwaZulu-Natal.
The long-term social and economic cost of the unrest was also becoming clearer, with calls for the government to address underlying problems to head off more violence and despair.
Wall Street bank JPMorgan said the unrest would force South Africa’s economy to contract by 3% in the third quarter and drag down full-year growth.
The ransacking of stores has led to shortages of essential goods.
State logistics group Transnet said operations at Durban and Richards Bay ports were improving although road closures and fuel and food shortages were constraining its supply chain. Richards Bay had cleared all its shipping backlogs.
Retailer Massmart (MSMJ.J) said protesters had looted 41 of its stores and two distribution centres, with four sites damaged by arson.
Ethekwini authorities also closed public beaches in north Durban because of a chemical spillage in a lagoon originating from a blaze in a chemical warehouse.
The government has characterised the violence as criminality.
But the Nelson Mandela Foundation – a legacy of the late leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and South Africa’s first Black president – said violence had been growing at “disturbing levels” in the last two decades.
“There are too many people feeling discarded and in despair, too many people with nothing to lose, too many people who have seen political and other elites at all levels play fast and loose with the law, with impunity,” the foundation said.
The head of Statistics South Africa, Risenga Maluleke, said it could take years to rebuild damaged infrastructure, and small businesses “will find it difficult to rise from the ashes”.
This would lead to even more unemployment, he said. Most of the people in the streets were youths with few job prospects and limited education opportunities.
Half of South Africans live below the official poverty line and unemployment stood at a record 32% in the first three months of 2021, due partly to the impact of COVID-19.
The unrest broke out in several parts of the country last week after Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was jailed for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry.