South Africa's army began deploying 25,000 troops Thursday to assist police in quelling weeklong riots sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma. At least 117 people have been killed in the violence, authorities said.
In one of the largest deployments of soldiers since the end of white minority rule in 1994, the government said 10,000 soldiers were on the streets by Thursday morning and the South African National Defence Force has also called up all of its reserve force of 12,000 troops.
In a show of force, a convoy of more than a dozen armored personnel carriers brought soldiers Thursday into Gauteng province, South Africa's most populous, which includes the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.
Buses, trucks, airplanes and helicopters were also being used to move the large deployment of troops to trouble spots in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal province that have seen a week of violence in mainly poor areas.
The violence erupted last week after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to testify at a state-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.
The protests in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal escalated into a spree of theft in township areas, although it has not spread to South Africa’s seven other provinces, where police are on alert.
More than 2,200 people have been arrested for theft and vandalism and 117 have died, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, acting minister in the presidency said Thursday. Many of those killed were trampled in chaotic stampedes when shops were being looted, according to police.
Army and police worked to reopen the N3 toll highway, which had been closed for days as burned-out trucks blocked the roads. The highway is an important transport route carrying fuel, food and other goods to all parts of the country and its prolonged closure is expected to cause shortages of essential goods.
Armed security has been established around Durban harbor, southern Africa's largest port, to make sure that it is able to continue operating.
The largest deployment of soldiers since South Africa won democracy was in March 2020 when 70,000 army troops were sent out to enforce the country’s strict lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19, Ntshavheni, said Thursday.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.