South Africa’s army has begun deploying 25,000 troops to assist police in quelling the week-long riots and violence sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma.
At least 117 people have been killed in the violence, authorities said.
In one of the largest deployment of soldiers since the end of white minority rule in 1994, the government said 10,000 soldiers were on the streets by Thursday morning and the South African National Defence Force had also called up all of its reserve force of 12,000 troops.
Trucks, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters are being used to transport soldiers to trouble spots in the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces that have seen a week of violence in mainly poor areas.
The violence erupted last week after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing 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.
The protests in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu-Natal escalated into a spree of theft in township areas, although it has not spread to South Africa’s seven other provinces, where police are on alert.
More than 2,200 people have been arrested for theft and vandalism and 117 have died, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, acting minister in the presidency said on Thursday.
Many of those killed were trampled in chaotic stampedes when shops were being looted, according to police.
The armed patrols appear to have succeeded in bringing stability to Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province which includes Johannesburg, the country’s largest city. Army troops stood guard at the large Maponya mall in Soweto, which was closed.
Volunteer groups cleaned up shattered glass and debris from shops that had been stormed and looted in Johannesburg’s Soweto and Alexandra townships.
But the unrest continued in KwaZulu-Natal province where several factories and warehouses were smouldering on Thursday after being targeted in arson attacks. There were renewed attacks on Thursday on shopping centres in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province.
Army and police worked to reopen the N3 toll highway, which had been closed for days as burned-out trucks blocked the roads. The highway is an important transport route carrying fuel, food and other goods to all parts of the country and its prolonged closure was expected to cause shortages of essential goods.
Armed security had been established around Durban harbour, southern Africa’s largest port, to make sure it was able to continue operating.
Police discovered more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in Durban on Wednesday night, which minister of police Bheki Cele said belonged to people who were instigating the violent riots in the province.