Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN)– Soldiers and police were scrambling to restore order in parts of South Africa on Tuesday, as police reported the number of people killed in days of protests and looting rose to at least 72 in some of the worst violence the country has seen in years.
Protests erupted last week when the former president Jacob Zuma, 79, turned himself in to the authorities to serve a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. Zuma had refused to appear before an anti-corruption commission to face various charges, including bribery and fraud, which he has repeatedly denied.
Among those killed in the violence are 10 who died in a stampede in Soweto township, Police Ministry spokesman Lirandzu Themba told CNN. More than 1,200 people have been arrested in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma is from, and Gauteng.
For nearly a week, protesters and looters have burned shopping malls and clashed with police, who have responded with rubber bullets and are now so overwhelmed that the military has been called in to back them up.
CNN visited Soweto on Tuesday, where a shop owner, Rahman, who did not give his last name, said he fears he has lost everything.
“Even right now where am I going to stay, what am I going to eat, what am I going to do… we don’t know anything. Really, we’re losing everything,” he told CNN.
“It’s very painful, and I don’t know what I can say about it. This is not our fault. I don’t know what happened to the government. We don’t know, but this is not our fault. We haven’t done anything. We just lose like this.”
Soldiers patrolled the streets of Johannesburg on Tuesday in armored personnel carriers, carrying rifles loaded with live ammunition, as the military struggled to bring some order to the violence.
South African Police Minister Bheki Cele has vowed to curb the continuing violence that erupted over the weekend.
“We cannot allow anyone to mock our democratic state and we have instructed law enforcement to redouble their efforts to stop the violence and increase deployment on the ground,” he said, calling on those demonstrating to do so peaceful way.
“No discontent or personal circumstance of our people gives anyone the right to loot, vandalize and do what they please and break the law.”
The government of neighboring Botswana on Tuesday issued a warning for its citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to parts of South Africa.
On Monday night, the President Cyril Ramaphosa he addressed the nation to call for calm and announced that the army would be deployed in the affected provinces. He acknowledged that the protests and looting may have been started by political grievances, but said “opportunistic” criminal elements had taken control.
He also warned that continued protests and looting could further undermine the response to covid-19 and the rollout of vaccination in the country, as several vaccination centers have been forced to stop administering doses due to the spread of coronavirus. violence.
The number of deaths from covid-19 in the country has been rising since June and doctors have described a system that is past your breaking pointwith insufficient hospital beds and barely enough oxygen.
Zuma turned himself in to police last week after days of speculation about whether he would comply with court orders for his imprisonment. The lawyers of the former president requested this Monday a reduction of the sentence.
Zuma was president from 2009 to 2018 and was once widely celebrated as a key figure in the country’s liberation movement. He spent 10 years in prison with anti-apartheid hero and former president Nelson Mandela.
But his nine years in power were marred by high-level corruption allegations.
Zuma is accused of corruption involving three businessmen close to him – the Atul brothers, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta – and allowing them to influence government policy, including hiring and firing ministers to align with business interests. of the family. The Guptas deny any wrongdoing, but left South Africa after Zuma was ousted from the presidency.
— CNN’s Amy Cassidy contributed to this report.