Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. Picture: GCIS
Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. Picture: GCIS

The country’s death toll from last week’s riots that erupted following former president Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment has risen from 243 to 337 in a single day.

The steep climb in the number of deaths comes as those who were injured during the weeklong violence and unrest succumbed to their injuries, according to acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

“We are not [tallying] all the deaths that happened during that period ... the police are verifying the place where [people] died and whether it is linked to the unrest,” Ntshavheni said on Thursday during a media briefing. 

In Gauteng, where 79 people died, the police have opened 42 cases of murder and 37 inquest dockets. In KwaZulu-Natal, 258 people died during the riots and the police are investigating 170 possible cases of murder and 87 inquest dockets have been opened.

The police have opened 132 cases of arson in KwaZulu-Natal where sugar mills and citrus farms where set alight during the violence. 

What began as a political demonstration in KwaZulu-Natal against Zuma’s imprisonment on July 7 rapidly spread to Gauteng. Crowds of people looted retail centres, torched trucks and blocked major highways along the coast, sparking fears of food insecurity in the country.

Though the military and police were deployed to hotspots in the two provinces to quell the unrest, President Cyril Ramaphosa conceded that the government had been poorly prepared for the turmoil that has left a trail of destruction.

Calm has been restored to the two provinces, with no incidents of looting or violence reported in two days. The major highways, N3 and N1, have also resumed operations allowing the free flow of goods and motor vehicles.

Zuma supporters in Durban gathered at the party’s provincial headquarters, demanding the former president’s release from jail. The party, however, has distanced itself from the calls to release Zuma who is currently serving a 15-month jail term at the Estcourt prison. 

The government has termed the unrest an “orchestrated attempt at an insurrection” but has not yet revealed the names of the plotters of the failed insurrection.

Police have arrested more than 3,000 people in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng including four suspected instigators of the violence who appeared in various courts this week.

The four suspects, Bruce Nimmerhoudt, Sibusiso Mavuso, Clarence Tabane and Ngizwe Mchunu, are part of the “key players” of the violence”, Ntshevheni said.

Initially the government had named 12 suspected instigators of the violence. This number is expected to increase as investigations into the matter continue.

maekot@businesslive.co.za

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