The South African government on July 14 sought to deploy around 25,000 troops to curb unrest, now in its sixth straight day, amid fears of food and fuel shortages as disruption to farming, manufacturing and oil refining began to bite.
Seventy-two people have died and more than 1,200 people arrested, according to official figures, since former president Jacob Zuma began a 15-month jail term, sparking protests that swiftly turned violent.
Looting has hit supply chains and transport links especially in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, impacting goods and services around the country.
The government said 208 incidents of looting and vandalism were recorded on July 14, as the number of troops deployed doubled to 5,000.
But defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula later told parliament that she had “submitted a request for deployment of plus-minus 25,000” soldiers. Troop deployments are authorised by the president.
She did not say when the extra troops would be on the streets.
Government had been under pressure to increase boots on the ground to quickly put a lid on the violence pummelling an already struggling economy.
The country’s consumer goods regulatory body estimated that more than 800 retail shops had been looted.
President Cyril Ramaphosa met leaders of political parties and cautioned that parts of the country “may soon be running short of basic provisions following the extensive disruption of food, fuel and medicine supply chains”.
State-owned logistics operator Transnet declared a “force majeure” on July 14 – an emergency beyond its control – on a key rail line that links Johannesburg to the coast because of the unrest.
In the port city of Durban, hundreds of people queued outside food stores hours before they opened, as lines of cars also formed outside fuel stations, an AFP photographer saw.
On July 13, the country’s largest refinery SAPREF shuttered its plant in Durban, responsible for a third of South Africa’s fuel supply.
“It’s inevitable that we will have fuel shortages in the next couple of days or weeks,” the Automobile Association’s Layton Beard said.
In Johannesburg’s Soweto township, bread was being sold from a delivery truck outside a major shopping mall as stores have either been looted or shut due to fears of vandalism.
The lootings have “seriously compromised our energy security and food security”, said Bonang Mohale, chancellor of University of the Free State.
The violence has also disrupted the coronavirus vaccine rollout and medicines deliveries to hospitals, said Mohale, echoing similar reports from hospitals.
The country, which has recorded more than 2.2 million infections, is in the midst of a brutal virus third wave.
Christo van der Rheede, executive director of the largest farmers’ organisation, AgriSA, said producers were struggling to get crops to market because of the logistical “shambles”.
He warned that if law and order were not restored soon, “we are going to have a massive humanitarian crisis”.
Sugarcane fields were torched in KwaZulu-Natal, the main cane-growing region, while elsewhere cattle were stolen.