South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (Image: Reuters)
At least 10 people have been killed and more than 490 have been arrested in riots over the jailing of former South African President Jacob Zuma, with the country's military to help police curb the violence and looting.
Shopping malls in Johannesburg, the country's largest city, were looted and major roads were blocked by burning tires, Associated Press reported.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on July 12 said the violence was unprecedented.
"Over the past few days and nights, there have been acts of public violence of a kind rarely seen in the history of our democracy," said Ramaphosa in a televised address to the nations, adding he was speaking with "a heavy heart".
Troops were sent to the populated provinces of Gauteng, which houses the country's economic hub Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma's home province.
The unrest started last week in KwaZulu-Natal province after Zuma was imprisoned for contempt of court. What began as fairly small-scale blocking of roads in Zuma's home area intensified and spread to Gauteng.
Mobs ransacked stores, carting away anything from crates of alcohol to beds, refrigerators and bath tubs, AFP reported.
79 year-old Zuma was on July 7 sentenced for 15 months for contempt of court, after failing to attend an inquiry into corruption during during his term as president from 2009 to 2018.
Ramaphosa said the rioting has highlighted poverty, unemployment and inequality in the country.
"Violence may indeed have its roots in the pronouncements and activities of individuals with a political purpose, and in expressions of frustration and anger...However, what we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft."
"This moment has thrown into stark relief what we already knew: that the level of unemployment, poverty and inequality in our society is unsustainable," Ramaphosa said.(With inputs from AP and AFP)