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62 held as SA police battle pro-Zuma protesters

A total of 62 people have been arrested as police sought to impose the rule of law in the face of lawlessness which has accompanied protests by supporters of jailed former president Jacob Zuma.

National roads have been blocked, trucks with merchandise running into hundreds of millions torched and shops looted by protesters. The South African Police said the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure was working around the clock to enhance operational capacity in response to incidents in which people were undermining the authority of the state.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken out strongly against the violent protests that have broken out in parts of KwaZulu-Natal, during which trucks were set alight, national roads blocked and some shops looted.

The violence broke out in some parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg after Zuma was arrested and taken to prison to start his 15-month imprisonment for contempt of court.

In a strongly-worded statement, Ramaphosa said no reason could be used to justify the violence and said the acts of violence by criminal elements must be met with the full might of the law. His call came as the SA police revealed that 27 people have been arrested in connection with the violent acts.

Ramaphosa also warned that the violence would have a negative impact on the country’s economy, which is battling to recover from devastation by COVID-19.

The President said the impact of public violence against the road freight industry and damage to freeways that serve as economic arteries would be felt also by the people organising and committing these crimes.

Rampahosa said the South African constitution protected the right to protest but protest could be abused to break the law or to destroy property and threaten livelihoods.  

He endorsed the call by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala for calm in the province and for citizens to express themselves within the bounds of the law.

On Friday, the high court dismissed Zuma’s application to have his arrest overturned, in a case seen as a test of the post-apartheid nation’s rule of law.

Provincial police spokesperson Jay Naicker said law enforcement officers had been deployed to all districts in KZN and were on high alert.

He said protesters had set alight some trucks near Mooi River, a town on the N3 highway that leads from Durban to Johannesburg, and shops had been looted in Mooi River and eThekwini, the municipality that includes Durban.

On Friday, a Reuters photographer saw a group of protesters shouting “Zuma!” as they burned tyres and blocked a road leading to Durban.

Naicker said there had been no deaths or injuries in the protests so far.

Zuma was given the jail term for defying an order from the constitutional court to give evidence at an inquiry investigating high-level corruption during his nine years in power from 2009. Zuma denies there was widespread corruption under his leadership but has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, which was set up in his final weeks in power.

Zuma has challenged his sentence in the constitutional court, partly on the grounds of his alleged frail health and risk of catching COVID-19. That challenge will be heard on Monday.

In a video posted on Twitter on Friday, KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said the provincial government understood the “extreme anger” of those protesting but called for violence to stop.

“We find ourselves in a very unusual and unique situation wherein we are dealing with the arrest of the former president,” he said. “Unfortunately violence and destruction often attack and affect even people who are not involved.” – African Mirror Reporter and Thomson Reuters Foundation.