Burnt cars in Jules Street, Johannesburg, amid protests in response to the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: VELI NHLAPO
Burnt cars in Jules Street, Johannesburg, amid protests in response to the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: VELI NHLAPO

Violent protests in KwaZulu-Natal linked to last week’s arrest of former president Jacob Zuma have spread to Johannesburg, with policy shutting major roads in a bid to curb violence. 

That followed the closure of parts of the N3 toll road, a major trade route, in eastern KwaZulu-Natal after trucks were torched on Friday night. By late on Sunday, parts of the N3, which links Durban with important business districts in Gauteng, had reopened, while  access to the M2 highway in Johannesburg was restricted in some areas after violence erupted in the city overnight.

The situation remains tense, Johannesburg metropolitan police department spokesperson Xolani Fihla said. “At the moment we cannot confirm what sparked the violence but there is an expectation that it aligns with the free-Zuma protests.”

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. Cars were set alight overnight and shops looted and damaged.

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 he turned himself in to authorities on July 7. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for defying a court order to testify at the state capture inquiry. He denies any wrongdoing and is challenging the sentence, with a court hearing set for Monday.

President’s warning

President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the violence in a televised address to the nation on Sunday, and warned that all those involved will be arrested and prosecuted.

“While there are those who may be hurt and angry at this moment, there can never be any justification for such violent, destructive and disruptive actions,” he said. “It is a matter of concern to all South Africans that some of these acts of violence are based on ethnic mobilisation.

The outbreak of violence is a response to an “unjust” system, Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi told 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.”

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 SA.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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