President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday ordered the army to assist the police to restore “calm and order” as looting of shops continued in various parts of South Africa.
Speaking as the commander in chief of the armed forces, Ramaphosa warned that those involved in public violence and looting would face the full might of the law.
South Africa has been engulfed in violent looting of shops in various towns and cities in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
He commended the police for their efforts so far. Ramaphosa said police had arrested 323 suspects in Gauteng and 166 others in KwaZulu-Natal.
Speaking in multiple vernacular languages the president warned against mobilising protest action along tribal lines.
“The majority of our people have refused t be mobilised along these ethnic lines,” said Ramaphosa.
What began as #Free Zuma protests at the weekend turned violent with the burning of 35 haulage trucks in Mooi River.
Sporadic looting in Durban spread to other areas. Even as Ramaphosa warned of stern action against those who were stealing and looting, shops were under siege.
Brazen looters in Durban stole liquor, groceries, clothes, fridges, and televisions.
Ramaphosa warned that the violence was impacting health services and food security.
South Africa is in the throes of the third wave, driven by the more deadly Delta variant.
Looters have ignored Covid-19 prevention regulations that prohibit gatherings.
Ramaphosa said there is a danger that these events could lead to a greater surge of the virus.
Without mentioning jailed former president Jacob Zuma by name, Ramaphosa acknowledged that some people may have been feeling “hurt” but there was no justification for such violence and destruction.
The destruction and looting have been estimated to cost hundreds of millions of rand. At least six people have died in the violence.
“The loss of human life is the greatest loss of all,” said the president. He called out the names of the dead and extended his condolences to their families.
Ramaphosa said he has given clear instructions to security forces to restore order.
“We will restore calm and order,” declared Ramaphosa.
“We will stand as one people, united against violence, unanimous in our commitment to peace and to the rule of law.”