South Africa plans to deploy up to 25,000 soldiers in two provinces where security forces are struggling to quell days of looting, arson and violence, its defence minister told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday. A military surge of that size would increase tenfold the number of soldiers deployed in the hot spots of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, where the police and army have been battling unrest for days. More than 70 people have been killed in the unrest, the worst in South Africa for years, and hundreds of businesses wrecked. Food and fuel supplies are running short. But in signs of a public backlash, residents in some areas on Wednesday turned suspected looters into police, blocked entrances to malls and in some cases armed themselves as vigilantes to form road blocks or scare them away. In northern Johannesburg, one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, a Reuters correspondent saw soldiers moving door-to-door to confiscate stolen items, with the help of civilians opposed to the looting. Half the population lives below the poverty line, according to the latest government figures from 2015, and growing joblessness since the coronavirus pandemic began has left many desperate. Unemployment stood at a new record high of 32.6% in the first three months of 2021. The unrest also disrupted hospitals struggling to cope with a third wave of COVID-19.
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