Durban – South Africa plans to deploy up to 25,000 extra soldiers in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) where security forces are struggling to quell days of looting, arson and violence, its defence minister told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, according to local news channel eNCA.
A military surge of that size would increase tenfold the number of soldiers deployed in the hot spots of those two provinces, where the police and army have been battling unrest for days.
“We have now submitted a request for deployment of (about) 25,000 members,” according to a video recording of Defence and Military Veterans’ Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula shown on eNCA.
On Wednesday evening the SANDF posted urgent messages on its social media pages for the immediate reporting to units of the SA Army Reserve members.
The statement said: “As directed by the Chief of the South African Army, Lieutenant-General Lawrence Khulekani Mbatha, all Reserve members are to report for duty at first light tomorrow morning 15 July 2021 at their respective units. The members to report ready with their necessary equipment.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa had mentioned at a meeting with political party leaders earlier on Wednesday that a further deployment of members of the SANDF was being considered.
Late Wednesday night, the SANDF posted a link to the Government Gazette in which a notice from the Ministry of Defence announces “Operation Prosper” which runs for three months from now until October 12, 2021. It includes the employment of the SANDF with the SA Police Service in the “Prevention of Crime and Maintenance and Preservation of Law and Order”.
In signs of a public backlash, residents in some areas on Wednesday turned in suspected looters to police, blocked entrances to malls and in some cases armed themselves as vigilantes to form road blocks or scare them away.
In Vosloorus, southern Johannesburg, minibus taxi operators, many of whom have guns, fired bullets into the air to scare off looters.
“We can’t just allow people from nowhere to come and loot here,” said Paul Magolego, Vosloorus taxi association spokesperson, adding that taxi drivers had had no business since Monday because of the unrest.
Underscoring the inherent dangers in such vigilantism, a 15-year-old teenage boy – Vusi Dlamini – was killed by a stray bullet in Vosloorus, according to a Reuters photographer who saw the body. Magolego said the taxi owners arrived on the scene after he had died.
In Alexandra Township in northern Johannesburg, one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, a Reuters correspondent saw soldiers moving door-to-door to confiscate stolen items, with the help of civilians opposed to the looting.
Citizens armed with guns, many from South Africa’s white minority, blocked off streets to prevent further plundering, in Durban, Reuters TV footage showed.
Others were forming online groups like Rebuild South Africa to help clean up and rebuild devastated neighbourhoods.
Security forces say they have arrested more than 1,200 people, while President Ramaphosa met political party leaders on Wednesday to discuss the unrest.
The violence appeared to have abated in some areas, but in others, there was renewed burning and looting.
Some rich Durban residents chartered small planes and helicopters out of the city, a Reuters photographer reported.
The unrest also disrupted hospitals struggling to cope with a third wave of COVID-19.
The National Hospital Network, representing 241 public hospitals already under strain from Africa’s worst COVID-19 epidemic, said it was running out of oxygen and drugs, most of which are imported through Durban, as well as food.
“The President also cautioned that several areas of the country may soon be running short of basic provisions following the extensive disruption of food, fuel and medicine supply chains,” said the Presidency.
The Acting Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, called for calm and asked South Africans to resist the urge to stock up on supplies, and to avoid spreading COVID-19. Ntshavheni said while the government understood the concerns of people who have taken up arms to defend their property, she asked them to rather stick to the law and work with law enforcement than resorting to vigilantism.
The Mayor of Ethekwini, a municipality that includes Durban, estimated that R15 billion (US$1 billion) had been lost in damage to property and another billion in loss of stock. “I appeal to the Zulu nation to withdraw from the participation in the destruction of our country,” Zulu King Misuzulu said in an address. – Reuters