South Africa combats unrest after ex-leader Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment

South African police and the army struggled to bring order Wednesday to impoverished areas of South Africa rocked by weeklong unrest and days of looting sparked by the imprisonment last week of ex-President Jacob Zuma.

More than 200 violent incidents happened in poor areas of the Kwa-Zulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces overnight, the government said Wednesday, a week after the protests started.

The deployment of army soldiers to assist police has been doubled to 5,000 after the days of rioting in which more than 72 people have been killed and 1,234 arrested, according to police. Many of the deaths were caused by chaotic stampedes as thousands of people ransacked shops, stealing food, electrical appliances, liquor and clothes, police Maj. Gen. Mathapelo Peters said.

The violence erupted last week after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to testify at a state-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.

The protests in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu-Natal provinces escalated into a spree of theft in township areas, although it has not spread to South Africa’s other seven provinces, where police are on alert.

A tense order appeared to have been achieved Wednesday by security forces in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province which includes the largest city, Johannesburg.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa met online Wednesday with the leaders of political parties represented in the National Assembly to urge all to work together to restore order.

Ramaphosa has had consultations over the past two days “with different sectors of society to develop a society-wide response to the current outbreaks of public violence and economic damage,” said Tyrone Seale, the president’s acting spokesman.

“The president said the destruction witnessed by the nation hurt all South Africans, not only those in the affected areas,” said Seale. “And it hurt the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable the most.”

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