Former South African President Jacob Zuma (Image: AP)
South Africa is deploying up to 25,000 soldiers in two provinces where security forces are struggling to quell looting, arson and violence.
A military surge of that size would increase tenfold the number of soldiers deployed in the hotspots of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, where the police and army have been battling unrest for days.
"We have now submitted a request for deployment of 25,000 members," Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Former president Jacob Zuma was jailed last week after he failed to appear at a corruption inquiry, triggering protests that widened into mass looting and an outpouring of anger over the hardship and inequality that persist in South Africa 27 years after the end of apartheid.
More than 70 people have been killed in the unrest, the worst in South Africa for years, and hundreds of businesses have been destroyed. Food and fuel supplies are running short.
Shopping centres and warehouses have been ransacked or set ablaze in several cities.
But in signs of a public backlash, residents in some areas on Wednesday turned suspected looters in to police, blocked entrances to malls and in some cases armed themselves as vigilantes to form roadblocks or scare offenders away.
In Vosloorus, southern Johannesburg, minibus taxi operators, many of whom have guns, fired bullets into the air to scare off looters.
"We can't just allow people from nowhere to come and loot here," Paul Magolego, Vosloorus taxi association spokesperson, said adding that taxi drivers had had no business since Monday because of the unrest.
Underscoring the inherent dangers in such vigilantism, a 15-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet in Vosloorus.
Mr Magolego said the taxi owners arrived on the scene after he was dead.
In Alexandra township in northern Johannesburg, one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods, soldiers were moving door to door to confiscate stolen items, with the help of civilians opposed to the looting.
Citizens armed with guns, many from South Africa's white minority, blocked off streets to prevent further plundering, in Durban, Reuters TV footage showed.
Others were forming online groups to help clean up and rebuild devastated neighbourhoods.