South Africa riots: Community militias, DIY roadblocks and machetes last line of defence against looting

South Africa riots: Community militias, DIY roadblocks and machetes last line of defence against looting

Fears are growing of food and fuel shortages in South African as the surge of looting and arson attacks in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng continues.

At least seventy people have died and more than 1,000 have been arrested since violence erupted after former president Jacob Zuma was jailed for contempt of court on Thursday.

Government officials have accused Mr Zuma’s allies of trying to incite ethnic strife among the predominantly Zulu population of his home province in a cynical attempt to force his release.

But the violence has moved well beyond politics, with many people simply taking the opportunity to rage against entrenched poverty and to loot and steal with abandon.

With the police overwhelmed, many neighbourhoods have resorted to ad-hoc community militias, setting up DIY roadblocks and arming themselves with guns, clubs and machetes to protect their property and lives.

The chaos has also disrupted food production, cut off hundreds of roads and forced the closures of the country’s biggest oil refinery, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa warned on Wednesday that affected parts of the country “may soon be running short of basic provisions following the extensive disruption of food, fuel and medicine supply chains.”

In Soweto, a giant township west of Johannesburg, a band of volunteers successfully prevented the township’s last surviving shopping mall from being looted earlier this week.

But Bishop Paul Verryn, who lives in the township, told the Telegraph on Wednesday that thoughts were now turning to the dwindling supplies. “We don’t know how restocking will take place,” he said.

Mark Eveleigh reports from the KwaZulu Natal town of Nowick, where armed volunteers are defending the entrances to town, but supplies of food and fuel inside are running low.

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