Chaos in Johannesburg

Violent protests in South Africa linked to last week’s arrest of former President Jacob Zuma have spread to Johannesburg, the nation’s economic hub, with another major road shuttered.

That followed the closure of a key trade route in the country’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal province after trucks were torched on Friday night. Parts of the N3 Toll Route, which links the port city of Durban with important business districts in the Gauteng province, have reopened, yet access to the M2 highway in Johannesburg is restricted in some areas after violence erupted in the city overnight.

The situation remains tense, Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Xolani Fihla said by phone. “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.

At least one death has been reported. “An investigation is underway 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 the ex-president turned himself in to authorities on July 7. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for defying a court order to testify at a graft inquiry. He denies any wrongdoing and is challenging the sentence, with a court hearing set for Monday.

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 mobilization.

The outbreak of violence is a response to an “unjust” system, Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesman Mzwanele Manyi told Johannesburg-based broadcaster 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.”

Even as protests flared, 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 South Africa.

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Chaos in Johannesburg