WARNING: Graphic Content
Woman posts viral video footage showed people accosting a man wearing a police jacket beside a hatchback filled with groceries
The woman filming says: ‘This is a police officer, in uniform, looting … This is our SAPS (police force), guys’
Second video showed another purported officer in plain clothes trying to hide his face from the camera
His vehicle was laden with high value electrical goods, including a flat-screen television
Widespread unrest first erupted last Friday after former president Jacob Zuma was jailed over corruption charges
However, the wanton lawlessness has lost any political ties, with thousands looting their local malls and warehouses
The national health service warned it was also running low on oxygen and drugs due to chaos on the streets
Some police officers in South Africa have been caught looting goods as the ransacking of stores and warehouses continued into a fifth day – amid fears of food, fuel and Covid medicine shortages caused by the rioting.
Footage showed people accosting a man wearing a police jacket beside a hatchback filled with household supplies, including bread, milk and cooking oil. The woman filming says: ‘This is a police officer, in uniform, looting … This is our SAPS (South African Police Service), guys.’
A second video from the same woman showed another purported officer in plain clothes trying to hide his face from the camera after he was hauled out of his car by locals. His vehicle was laden with allegedly looted products, including a flat-screen television.
‘He has looted, he has threatened our lives with firearms, and this is all coming out of his Polo,’ the woman says as she films objects on the ground beside the open car boot.
The raging unrest first erupted last Friday after former president Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month term for contempt, having snubbed a probe into the corruption that stained his nine years in power.
But the wanton lawlessness has lost any political motivation, with gang shoot-outs in the streets, people queuing up in their cars to loot warehouses and malls, and white farmers forming militias to defend their properties.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was looking into adding more soldiers to the deployment of 2,500 troops that have been dispatched to bolster overrun police forces in in Johannesburg and Durban. Rioting has also spread to Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Soweto.
Industry bosses, including fuel retailers and farmers, are warning of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ as the chaos means that, as well as the goods being stolen, major port cities like Durban are under siege and the country’s infrastructure is blockaded.
Law-abiding citizens were pictured this morning lining up outside a supermarket in Hillcrest in KwaZulu-Natal, trying to stock up amid fears of food shortages caused by the pillaging.
The National Hospital Network, representing 241 public hospitals, has warned it is running out of oxygen and drugs for coronavirus patients – most of which are imported from Durban.
A 13-year-old boy was shot dead on Wednesday during a skirmish between taxi drivers and a looting mob attempting to burn down a mall in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg.
Conflicting reports said the teen, named locally as Vuso Dlamini, was 13 or 14-years-old. Earlier the body of another looter was discovered behind the mall.
A taxi drivers’ union has been defending the mall from the looters in the absence of police.
One of the cab drivers told Times Live: ‘We shop and work here. This is our livelihood. No-one messes with that.’
Jacob Zuma has been a dominant force in South African politics for decades but a series of political foot faults led to his current predicament.
A leader in the resistance to white minority rule, Zuma has been a key figure in the ruling ANC party since the end of apartheid. With the iconic Nelson Mandela as the first president of post-apartheid South Africa, the 79-year-old served as the country’s deputy president, eventually becoming president in 2007.
He held the post for 10 years before his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa took over.
However, his long political career has been beset by scandals, including a rape charge and multiple allegations of corruption, with his ability to weather political storms seeing him nicknamed the ‘Teflon president’.
The scandals that led to the downfall of Jacob Zuma include a particularly damaging rape charge that came from the past to haunt him, the so called ‘Guptagate’ involving slush with the trio of Gupta brothers, an arms deal and several tales of bung while in office.
In July 2021, he was jailed for failing to cooperate with a corruption probe in a move which prompted mass unrest sparked by his supporters. The corruption investigation centers on Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas, three billionaire Indian-born businessmen, in a scandal that has been dubbed ‘Guptagate’.
Zuma is accused of allowing the brothers – Atul, Ajay and Rajesh – to plunder state resources and peddle influence over government policy during his time as president.
On July 9, Zuma handed himself over to police to begin a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court after defying a court ruling to give evidence before the inquiry.
Zuma on his part, has decried the investigation as a ‘witch hunt’ led by Ramaphosa.
The former president is also facing a separate trial over a 4.16billion [£3billion] arms deal signed in 1999 when he was deputy president.
Zuma allegedly accepted bribes from international arms manufacturers to influence the choice of weaponry.
But these scandals are only the most recent in a long list.
Prior to Guptagate, Zuma was engulfed in a furor over security upgrades to his rural Nkandla residence in KwaZulu-Natal province. The tax-payer-funded work, cost $24million [£17.31million] and included a swimming pool – which was described as a fire-fighting facility – an amphitheater and a visitors’ center. South Africa’s graft watchdog in 2014 found that Zuma ‘benefitted unduly’ from the work.
In 2006, the year before he became president, Zuma was put on trial for rape. He claimed he had had consensual sex with a 31-year-old family friend who staying over at his house.
Ultimately, he was was acquitted, but beyond the alleged rape, South Africans were dismayed that Zuma, who was heading the country’s National AIDS Council at the time, admitted to having unprotected sex with his accuser, who was HIV-positive.
He caused further anger by telling the court he had showered afterwards to avoid contracting HIV – A dangerous piece of disinformation, as this method does not prevent the spread of HIV and was a commonly repeated myth in South Africa at the time.
More than a decade later, he is still mocked in newspaper cartoons, often being depicted with a shower nozzle sprouting from his head.
Despite the slew of scandals, Zuma continues to enjoy support both among poor South Africans and the ANC .
One looter said she was doing it purely because of the economic impacts of the lockdown. Asked by a local TV reporter if she was stealing because of Zuma’s imprisonment, she said: ‘No, we’re looting because we have no food, we have no jobs because of the Covid lockdown.’
Last year, the country’s GDP slumped by 7 per cent – the largest decline in more than 40 years. The unemployment rate stands at 32.6 per cent, while youth unemployment has soared to a staggering 75 per cent.
‘It literally feels like being in a war zone with gunshots, fires and smoke going up everywhere for the last two days,’ said some of the residents in neighborhoods plagued by the rioting. They are so scared they can’t sleep at night because of the constant gunfire.
With no end in sight, terrified residents are having to just sit back and watch the looting, hoping that the perpetrators don’t turn on their homes. ‘We are on fire,’ the man said. ”We’ve gone to a place where we are going to watch them stealing, we are not interfering with them – don’t harm us.’
Looting has hit supply chains and transport links in the Johannesburg region and the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, sending a shockwave to goods and services around the country.
In the port city of Durban, people started queueing outside food stores and at fuel stations as early as 4am – when the Covid night curfew ends.
The night before, the country’s largest refinery, Sapref, declared ‘force majeure’ – an emergency beyond its control – and shuttered its plant in Durban, shutting down a third of South Africa’s fuel supply.
The firm said the refinery was ‘temporarily shut down… due to the civil unrest and disruption of supply routes in and out of KwaZulu-Natal.’
Some fuel retailers have begun rationing while others are starting to run dry.
‘It’s inevitable that we will have fuel shortages in the next couple of days or weeks,’ Layton Beard, spokesman for South Africa’s Automobile Association, said.
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 these lootings, it’s an inflection point… this has now seriously compromised our energy security and food security,’ warned Bonang Mohale, chancellor of the University of the Free State and a professor of business and economics studies.
Similarly, KwaZulu-Natal is a predominantly black and Zulu population with an estimated 3.2million people living in poverty out of a population of 10.5million.
Nationally, the pandemic has worsened conditions with record levels of unemployment at 32.6 per cent, rising to 46.3 per cent among young people.
Zuma’s popularity among poor black Africans combined with their extreme poverty has proved a tinderbox for the country’s latest violence.
‘It has created disruption to the coronavirus vaccine rollout and deliveries to hospitals,’ he added.
Christo van der Rheede, executive director of the largest farmers’ organisation, 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.
The police last night confirmed that the number of people who have lost their lives in the looting so far has risen to 72.
Most of the deaths ‘relate to stampedes that occurred during incidents of looting of shops’, the police statement said.
Others were linked to shootings and explosions of bank ATMs.
The number of arrests has risen to 1,234, although many thousands have been involved in the ransacking sprees.
Earlier TV footage showed dozens of women, some wearing their dressing gowns, men and even children strolling into a butcher in Soweto, coming out balancing heavy boxes of frozen meat on their heads or shoulders.
Police showed up three hours later and fired rubber bullets. Soldiers eventually followed.
In Alexandra township north of Johannesburg, hundreds of people streamed in and out of a shopping mall, freely grabbing groceries.
Looters who spoke to AFP said they had got caught up in the rush, or saw the chance to ease a life blighted by poverty.
‘I’m really not concerned about Zuma. He is a corrupt old man that deserves to be in jail,’ said a 30-year-old man who works at a car wash.
He admitted to ‘taking things from the shop for my mum’ – stainless-steel pots, meat and groceries.
In Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal’s capital, people hauled boxed refrigerators through bushes to a long line of cars that were parked along a highway.
In Durban, aerial footage showed hundreds of people looting a large shopping centre and carting off huge boxes of goods.
A woman was seen throwing her baby from the first floor of a building to save her from fire after shops below her apartment were set on fire. The child safely landed with a group of people on the street.
More troubling is the fact that the deployment of 2,500 soldiers to support the South African police has so far failed to stop the rampant looting, although arrests were being made in some areas in Johannesburg, including Vosloorus in the eastern part of the city.
In his nationwide address Monday night, Ramaphosa lashed ‘opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft’.
‘The path of violence, of looting and anarchy, leads only to more violence and devastation,’ Ramaphosa said.
The chair of the African Union Commission condemned ‘the surge of violence that has resulted in the deaths of civilians and appalling scenes of the looting’, calling ‘for an urgent restoration of order’.
The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, announced Tuesday it would file criminal charges against Zuma’s children and the leader of the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema.
In a statement, the party accused them of using ‘social media to express comments which appear to encourage and incite the violence and looting.’
Once dubbed the ‘Teflon president’, Zuma was handed the jail term on June 29 by the Constitutional Court for bucking an order to appear before a commission probing the graft that proliferated under his administration.
He started serving the term on Thursday after handing himself in to authorities.
He is seeking to have the ruling set aside.
South Africa is deep in an economic malaise, with cripplingly high levels of unemployment. Economic activity had already been badly affected by restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.