Violent protests in South Africa linked to last week’s arrest of former President Jacob Zuma have spread to the nation’s economic hub in Johannesburg with another major road shuttered.
That follows the closure of a key trade route in the country’s KwaZulu-Natal Province after trucks were torched on Friday night. Parts of the N3 Toll Route, which links the port city of Durban with important business districts in Gauteng, have reopened, yet access to the M2 highway in Johannesburg is restricted in some areas after violence erupted in the city overnight.
The situation remains tense, Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Xolani Fihla said by phone. “At the moment we cannot confirm what sparked the violence but there is an expectation that it aligns with the free-Zuma protests.”
M2 closed off to traffic in both directions btw Benrose & Cleveland following continuous riots in the area with reports of shots being fired at passing vehicles. Traffic is diverted at Maritzburg St & Cleveland Rd. #JHBTraffic#[email protected]
— Jo’burg Metro Police Department – JMPD (@JoburgMPD) July 11, 2021
More than 60 people have been arrested and authorities worked to disperse hundreds of protesters as businesses across the two affected regions were hit by looting, police said in a statement on Sunday.
At least one death has been reported. “An investigation is under way to determine the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of a 40-year-old man who was certified dead at a local clinic,” police said.
The protests began last week as Zuma’s supporters called for his release after the ex-president turned himself in to authorities on July 7. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for defying a court order to testify at a graft inquiry. He denies any wrongdoing and is challenging the sentence, with a court hearing set for Monday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa called for calm on Saturday. “The impact of public violence against the road freight industry and damage to freeways that serve as economic arteries will be felt also by the people organising and committing these crimes,” he said in a statement.
The outbreak of violence is a response to an “unjust” system, Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesman Mzwanele Manyi told Johannesburg-based broadcaster eNCA in an interview on Saturday. “It is the result of a vicious sentence given to a 79-year-old man without giving him the right to a fair trial.”
Even as protests flared, police were deployed along major routes to help enforce rules around gatherings to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“A warning is issued to those circulating inflammatory messages, inciting violence and lawlessness, that they refrain from doing so,” police said on Sunday. “The possibility of criminal charges being instituted against such persons cannot be ruled out.”
Various business lobby groups have made statements condemning the violence. “In addition to being lawless and endangering lives, these actions have a devastating impact on an already fragile economy and on investor confidence,” said Business Unity South Africa.
© 2021 Bloomberg