Zuma Unrest: Eastern Cape asks army to stand by as people gather outside malls

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  • Hemingways Mall and Vincent Park shopping centre in the Eastern Cape have been forced to evacuate shoppers and close shops amid fears that riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng will spread to the province.
  • This as groups of people gather outside malls in the Eastern Cape.  
  • The SA National Taxi Council says the taxi industry will not take part in looting and vandalism.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has asked for the army to be on standby due to fears that riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng will spread to the province.

Gatherings of people were seen in East London after the circulation of a social media message, mobilising people to participate in riots following the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. Zuma was jailed for 15 months for contempt of court.

According to the message, the protests were planned for Gqeberha, East London, Bhisho and Mthatha. It prompted the SA Police Service to assemble a force to guard the streets in those areas. 

READ | #ZumaUnrest: Eastern Cape government urges residents not to take to streets over Zuma

Two of the biggest shopping malls in East London, Hemingways Mall and Vincent Park shopping centre, were forced to close and evacuate shoppers after 11:00 on Tuesday. 

Vincent Park centre manager Joseph Parsley said its safety and evacuation plan was activated and all 88 stores were shut down after a group of protesters was seen approaching the mall.  

Parsley added:

There was a sight of protesters on Devereux Avenue and across the shopping centre. They were making their way to the shopping centre, which is when we activated our security and evacuation plan. There is no way trade is gonna normalise today, given the evacuation. We will resume tomorrow for safety and protection of property and infrastructure.

Hemingways Mall spokesperson Wendy Vanda said they decided to close more than 160 stores as a safety precaution after they got wind of planned looting at East London malls. 

READ | Zuma unrest: Some shops allowing only limited number of items as food, fuel shortages choke Durban

In a statement on Tuesday, Mabuyane said:

I have asked the national government to put the soldiers that are based in our province on high alert for deployment to support our South African police officers if the need arises. The soldiers are the defenders of innocent people against anarchists and will assist the police in preventing destruction of public and private property.

He said the province was extremely concerned about what was happening in Gauteng and KZN, because it had socio-economic links with those two provinces. 

ALSO READ|  #ZumaUnrest: Eastern Cape police deployed in CBDs amid fears of public violence

"We join President Cyril Ramaphosa in calling for the cooling of tensions," Mabuyane said.  

A South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) sold
A South Africa National Defence Force soldier detains a suspected looter at Jabulani Mall in Soweto, as rioting continued on Tuesday.

He added that law enforcement agencies were investigating the origin of those messages to arrest the ring leaders of the campaign.  

The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) in the province said the taxi industry would not take part in the looting and vandalism, and would defend private and public properties instead.

In a statement, Santaco deputy provincial chairperson, Gabs Mtshala, said: "We are calling on all our members and drivers instead, to defend those properties and deal decisively with those disturbing our business.

"Should we allow malls, shopping centres and businesses to be destroyed and closed, we will not have passengers to transport and will therefore lose business. Our taxis will be repossessed and we will never recover from that. We lost heavily during the [Covid-19] pandemic and we never recovered from those loses. No criminal element will be elevated in our name."

Mabuyane welcomed the support from the taxi industry and instructed all mayors to meet with local taxi captains to coordinate their strategies to quell the violence and destruction of public and private property.    

ALSO READ | Manganese ore truck torched in Gqeberha

Meanwhile, abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo said he was deeply concerned after he received a tip-off about the planned looting of malls in the Eastern Cape, especially at Mthatha. 

Dalindyebo said he had been informed that trucks delivering goods, such as food, medication and winter clothes, to Mthatha stores on Wednesday would be intercepted and set alight.

He called on the perpetrators to stop.

"Their activities are also hurting those who share the same sentiments about the former president's release from prison. It can't be right. Almost all these actions are not directed to the message of releasing uBaba uNxamalala.

"To date, [there are] no petitions signed by people asking for the president to intervene. Instead, we see actions that will result [in] extreme poverty and more deaths. We see extortion taking centre stage, further distorting the entire message, that was pleading for [the] former president," he said.

Police spokesperson Colonel Brenda Muridili said no incidents related to the unrest in other parts of South Africa were reported to the Eastern Cape's police management.

She said there were a few protests in parts of the province on Monday but these were due to longstanding disputes.

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