South Africa has been rocked by violence and looting for six consecutive days, with more than 70 people killed as grievances over the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma spiraled into the worst unrest in decades.
Following the jailing of the former leader, protests and mass looting have widened into an outpouring of anger over the inequality that remains 27 years after the end of apartheid.
Poverty has been exacerbated by severe social and economic restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
More than 1,200 people have been arrested in the lawlessness that has raged in poor areas of two provinces, where a community radio station was ransacked and forced off the air on Tuesday and some COVID-19 vaccination centers were closed, disrupting urgently needed inoculations.
Many of the deaths in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces occurred in chaotic stampedes as thousands of people stole food, electric appliances, liquor and clothing from stores, police said.
The deployment of 2,500 soldiers to support the overwhelmed South African police has so far failed to stop the rampant looting.
South African ports, key rail line disrupted
Major South African ports Durban and Richards Bay and a rail line connecting Durban with the Gauteng province where Johannesburg is located have been disrupted, according to state logistics group Transnet.
Transnet said in a statement that force majeure had been declared on the NATCOR rail line. It added that it was deploying all available resources to avert commercial fuel operations being affected, after being served with a force majeure notice by the SAPREF refinery.
Fears grow over food shortages
As violence continues, looting has hit supply chains and transport links in the Johannesburg region and the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, sending a shockwave to the delivery of goods and services around the country.
Outside a branch of a popular supermarket in northern Durban’s Eastman region, around 400 people started lining up to buy food, hours before the shop was due to open.
“With [this looting], it’s an inflection point… this has now seriously compromised our energy security and food security,” Bonang Mohale, chancellor of the University of the Free State and a professor of business and economics studies, told the press.
Christo van der Rheede, executive director of the largest farmers’ organization, AgriSA, said producers were struggling to get their crops to market because the logistical network was in a “shambles”.
“We need the restoration of law and order as soon as possible because we are going to have a massive humanitarian crisis,” van der Rheede said.
“South Africa is a vast country size-wise and the Western Cape is far from the worst-hit areas. I would say it is the safest part of the country currently.”
The Lions arrived in South Africa on June 28 for an eight-match tour and played three times in Gauteng before flying to Cape Town last weekend.
The National Hospital Network (NHN), which represents 241 hospitals, has warned of the ongoing violence’s impact on the country’s health care services, according to local media IOL.
Due to the unrest, health care workers cannot leave their houses causing dire staff shortages, while food supplies are running out at some hospitals, according to a NHN statement reported by IOL.
The network is calling on the government to provide on-site security to hospitals and police escorts for the transport of oxygen and other medical supplies.
The NHN is deeply concerned at the slow pace in getting the situation under control, reportedly saying that the “collateral damage is simply unimaginable”.