By Dinky Mkhize
PRETORIA (Reuters) – The death toll from street violence in South Africa’s capital has risen to five, police said on Thursday, after two more bodies were found following clashes triggered by the ruling party’s choice of a mayoral candidate for a local vote.
Police said they also arrested about 200 rioters who attacked foreign-own shops in Pretoria as public anger mounted over economic hardship in the build-up to an Aug. 3 election likely to become a referendum on President Jacob Zuma’s rule.
Colonel Noxolo Kweza, police spokeswoman for Gauteng Province, said those arrested would be charged with violence, possession of unlicensed firearms and damage to property.
Disturbances flared on Monday night when residents of Pretoria’s impoverished townships began setting cars and buses alight after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) named a candidate in the Tshwane municipality where the capital city is located, disregarding the choice of regional branches.
The ANC leadership named senior party member and former cabinet minister Thoko Didiza as its candidate for Tshwane, overriding regional branch members and refusing to back down as the violence mounted.
The protests morphed into looting of shops in the past three night and shells of burned-out cars still blocked some roads.
Two suspected looters were shot dead on Tuesday night after an ANC member was shot dead on Sunday as party factions met to decide on a candidate for mayor of Tshwane.
Sporadic looting continued in parts of the capital on Thursday. Kweza said the situation was “calm but tense in some of the areas”. Speaking to the media for the first time since the clashes erupted, Didiza said she felt at home in Tshwane.
“I do not feel foreign in Tshwane, even with the latest incidents, which I think do not reflect the feelings of the people of Tshwane,” she said at a meeting in Johannesburg called by the ANC to parade its provincial mayoral candidates.
Leaders urged Tshwane residents to shun tribalism and accept Didiza even though she does not originally hail from the area.
The ANC has been in power since the end of white-minority rule in 1994 but critics say it is losing its touch in areas – including Pretoria – where it was once unassailable.
Record unemployment and a looming recession have exacerbated discontent with President Jacob Zuma’s leadership since the Constitutional Court ruled he had violated his oath of office by refusing to refund to the state some of the 240 million rand ($16.25 million) spent on refurbishing his private residence.
(Additional reporting by Zimasa Mpemnyama in Johannesburg; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Mark Heinrich)