What is happening in South Africa? Riots and looting across country after former president Jacob Zuma jailed

There is violence and unrest across several cities including Durban and Soweto - with the death toll rising to 72

Police in South Africa say at least 72 people have now been killed and 1,234 arrested in unrest set off by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma.

In a statement issued on 13 July, Maj. Gen Mathapelo Peters said many of the deaths were caused by stampedes of people when shops were being looted.

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Twenty-seven deaths are being investigated in KwaZulu-Natal province and 45 in Gauteng province.

A mall in Vosloorus is left vandalised after raging unrest erupted when former president Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month term for contempt  (AFP/Getty Images)
A mall in Vosloorus is left vandalised after raging unrest erupted when former president Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month term for contempt (AFP/Getty Images)

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Here’s what you need to know.

Why was the former president jailed?

More than 1,200 people have been arrested in the lawlessness that has raged in poor areas of the two provinces.

A community radio station was ransacked and forced off the air on 13 July and some Covid vaccination centres were closed, disrupting urgently needed inoculations.

The violence broke out after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court on 8 July.

He had refused to comply with a court order to testify at a state-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.

Why was there violence?

The unrest spiralled into a spree of looting in township areas of the two provinces, although it has not spread to South Africa's other seven provinces, where police are on alert.

"The criminal element has hijacked this situation," said Premier David Makhura of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg.

More than half of South Africa's 60 million people are living in poverty, with an unemployment rate of 32%, according to official statistics.

The pandemic, with job layoffs and an economic downturn, has increased the hunger and desperation that helped propel the protests triggered by Zuma's arrest into wider rioting.

"We understand that those unemployed have inadequate food. We understand that the situation has been made worse by the pandemic," an emotional Mr Makhura said on the state South African Broadcasting Corp.

"But this looting is undermining our businesses here (in Soweto). It is undermining our economy, our community. It is undermining everything."

As he spoke, the broadcast showed police trying to bring order to the Ndofaya shopping mall, where 10 people had been crushed to death in a looting stampede. Gunshots could be heard in the background.

Mr Makhura appealed for leaders of political, religious and community organisations to urge people to halt the looting.

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.

At least 1,234 people were arrested in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, authorities said, but the situation was far from under control.

Looting continued on 13 July in shopping malls in Johannesburg township areas, including Jabulani Mall and Dobsonville Mall in Soweto. There also were reports of looting in KwaZulu-Natal.

In Daveyton township, east of Johannesburg, more than 100 people, including women, children and older citizens, were arrested for stealing from shops inside the Mayfair Square mall.

Running battles carried on as security and the police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to push back rioters, who were entering the shops by going through delivery entrances, emergency exits and climbing on roofs.