South Africa’s “looting death toll” from social unrest in the country’s eastern provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal reached 337 on Thursday, the Daily Maverick reported.
Public health officials confirmed 79 deaths in Gauteng province and 258 in KwaZulu-Natal on July 22, South Africa’s acting minister in the presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, told reporters. The deaths stemmed from rampant looting, rioting, arson, and violence that ravaged eastern South Africa for several days from about July 11 to July 17.
“[A]lmost no details are forthcoming about the nature of these deaths,” South Africa’s Daily Maverick online newspaper noted on July 22. “Ntshavheni said only that 42 cases of murder had been opened in Gauteng, and 171 cases of murder opened in KwaZulu-Natal.”
Ntshavheni did reveal that “thirty-seven  inquest dockets had been opened in Gauteng and 87 inquest dockets opened in KwaZulu-Natal,” according to the news outlet. An inquest docket is a judicial inquiry into the cause of a person’s death. The South African Police Service, a national police force, “opened 132 cases of arson in KwaZulu-Natal,” Ntshavheni further revealed on Thursday.
South Africa’s latest bout of social unrest first began as public protests against the jailing of ex-South African President Jacob Zuma on July 8 on charges of contempt of court. South Africa’s Constitutional Court handed Zuma a 15-month prison sentence on June 29 for failing to appear at a court hearing related to an investigation of alleged graft during his presidency (2009-2018). Zuma handed himself over to the Estcourt Correctional Center in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal just before midnight on July 7 to begin his prison sentence.
The action prompted outrage from Zuma loyalists, who staged demonstrations the next day calling for Zuma’s release. These protests quickly escalated into riots and looting, however, spiraling into a hurricane of violent chaos that spread from KwaZulu-Natal to the nearby Gauteng province, which contains South Africa’s economic and political capitals, Johannesburg and Pretoria, respectively.
South African government officials said this week the unrest was dying down and claimed to have more control over the situation. Police in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were largely incapable of stopping most of the looting and arson as it happened due to the sheer scale of the anarchy. Looters and arsonists extensively damaged or destroyed “161 shopping malls, 11 warehouses, and eight factories” in KwaZulu-Natal during the week-long rampage, according to Reuters. South African government officials estimated the economic cost from the unrest at “20 billion rand ($1.37 billion) in KwaZulu-Natal alone,” the news agency reported on July 22, adding, “The extent of the damage in Gauteng is still being collated.”
As South Africa reels from its devastating riots, Jacob Zuma reportedly enjoyed “a few hours of freedom” on July 22, as he was “permitted to leave the Estcourt Correctional Centre to attend his brother Michael’s funeral,” the Daily Maverick reported.
“Zuma was accompanied by a convoy of vehicles to the Nkandla funeral, which he had been granted permission to attend on compassionate grounds,” the news site revealed. Nkandla is a town in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Although there had been concerns that Zuma’s supporters might try to prevent him from returning to prison, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said at a 4.30 pm press briefing [on July 22] that he had already returned without incident,” the Daily Maverick relayed. “There were no reports of unrest related to Michael Zuma’s funeral or Jacob Zuma’s appearance at it.”
Ntshavheni told reporters on Thursday Zuma was “accompanied by correctional officers supported by law enforcement agencies” while attending the funeral.