JOHANNESBURG, July 11 (Reuters) – Shops were looted overnight, a section of the M2 motorway was closed and protesters wielding sticks marched through the streets of Johannesburg on Sunday, as sporadic acts of violence following the imprisonment of former South African President Jacob Zuma spread to the country’s main economic hub.
The unrest had mostly been concentrated in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), where he began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court on Wednesday evening. Read more
Zuma’s conviction and subsequent imprisonment were seen as a test of the post-apartheid nation’s ability to apply the law fairly – even against powerful politicians – 27 years after the African National Congress (ANC ) ousted the leaders of the white minority to inaugurate democracy. Read more
But his incarceration angered Zuma supporters and highlighted the dissent within the ANC.
Police said criminals used anger to steal and cause damage. National intelligence agency NatJOINTS has warned that those who incite violence could face criminal prosecution.
NatJOINTS said in a statement that 62 people had been arrested in KZN and Gauteng, the province where Johannesburg is located, since the violence began.
The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) said there was looting in Alexandra Township and the Jeppestown suburb on Saturday evening. M2 was closed after shots were reportedly fired at passing vehicles.
A Reuters TV team saw a column of protesters waving clubs, golf clubs and branches as they whistled and marched through Johannesburg’s central business district, where liquor stores had been broken into and shop windows broken.
The sale of alcohol is currently banned under lockdown restrictions designed to ease pressure on hospitals during a severe “third wave” of COVID-19 infections.
KZN police spokesman Jay Naicker said there had also been more looting in eThekwini, the municipality that includes Durban. “We have seen a lot of criminals or opportunistic individuals trying to get rich during this time,” he said.
Zuma was sentenced to jail for defying a Constitutional Court order to testify in an investigation that investigates high-level corruption during his nine years in office until 2018.
He denies that there was widespread corruption under his leadership, but refused to cooperate with the investigation, which was put in place during his last weeks in office.
Zuma challenged his sentence in the Constitutional Court, in part because of his alleged fragile health and the risk of catching COVID-19. This challenge will be heard on Monday. Read more
Speakers of parliament said on Sunday they were “sensitive to the personal difficulties facing former President Jacob Zuma. However, the rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution must prevail.”
Reporting by Alexander Winning, Shafiek Tassiem and Sisipho Skweyiya Editing by Frances Kerry
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