The South African military on Thursday began deploying 25,000 troops to help police quell week-long riots and violence sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
In the largest deployment of troops since the end of the white minority regime in 1994, the South African National Defense Force also called up its entire reserve force of 12,000 troops.
In a show of force, a convoy of more than a dozen armored personnel carriers on Thursday brought troops to South Africa’s most populous Gauteng province, which includes the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.
Buses, trucks, planes and helicopters are also used to move the large deployment of troops to hot spots in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal province which have seen a week of violence in predominantly poor areas.
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 in a state-backed investigation investigating allegations corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.
Protests in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have escalated into a wave of thefts in townships, although it has not spread to the other seven provinces in South Africa, where police are on alert.
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More than 1,700 people have been arrested for theft and 72 have died, mostly in chaotic stampedes during looting of shops, police said.
Armed patrols brought stability to Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province, which includes Johannesburg, the country’s largest city. Army troops stood guard in the large Maponya shopping center in Soweto, which was one of the few malls not badly affected by the devastation but which has remained closed.
Groups of volunteers cleaned up broken glass and debris from stores that had been stormed and looted in Johannesburg’s Soweto, Alexandra and Vosloorus neighborhoods.
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“I spoke to some of the guys who are unemployed in my area to come and help. The mayor helped us with transportation to get here. We came here with two buses, ”said George Moswetsa, a resident of Vosloorus in east Johannesburg who was helping to clean up a shopping center that had been ransacked.
However, unrest continued Thursday in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province. There were further attacks on shopping malls and several factories and warehouses were smoldering after being hit by arson.
The army and police worked to reopen the N3 toll motorway, which had been closed for days as torched trucks blocked the roads. The highway is a major transportation route transporting fuel, food and other goods to all parts of the country and its prolonged closure is expected to lead to shortages of essential goods.
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Armed security has been established around the port of Durban, the largest port in southern Africa, to ensure it is able to continue to function.
Police discovered more than 10,000 rounds in Durban on Wednesday evening, which Police Minister Bheki Cele said belonged to people who were behind the violent riots in the province.
Security forces have stepped up their presence in the Phoenix suburb of Durban, where riots have sparked racial tensions. The predominantly Indian residents of Phoenix were patrolling their area against the unrest and are accused of shooting blacks suspected of being rioters.
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“Lives have been lost. The communities are at an impasse and are in a bad way because it is the Indian community and the neighboring communities, which are African, ”Cele said at a press conference Thursday in Phoenix, where he said 15 people had been killed.
Cele had said earlier that around 12 people were under investigation for incitement and planning of the unrest.