After deadly riots in South Africa, army of volunteers leads defense, cleanup efforts

Protests that began with the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma led to widespread violence and at least 212 deaths.

After deadly riots in South Africa, army of volunteers leads defense, cleanup efforts
After deadly riots in South Africa

South Africa — Noxious smoke from days of riots and widespread looting hovered over parts of this lush seaside city over the weekend as residents came onto the streets to defend their homes and businesses from further violence.

“We need to stand (our) ground,” Margaret Westerhof, 42, told NBC News at a volunteer-erected traffic checkpoint on the edge of the suburb of Ballito. Normally an interior designer, Westerhof offered to serve as a media liaison for the community organization that sprung up in response to the unrest.

“It's our duty to continue to support the local authorities … to patrol our areas, keep our businesses safe,” she added.

Nationwide protests began with the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma on July 7. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after failing to appear before an inquiry investigating corruption and state capture during his administration.

What began as a political demonstration devolved into destruction not just in Durban — a city of 3.7 million where many of Zuma’s supporters live — but in the administrative capital of Pretoria and the largest urban center, Johannesburg.

Tires were set afire in the streets and shopping malls were gutted. At least 212 people were killed across the country, over 2,550 were arrested and more suspects were under surveillance, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Friday in a televised address to the country.

Ramaphosa admitted that the government had been “poorly prepared” to respond to such levels of violence. In an effort to regain stability, 25,000 troops with the South African National Defence Force were deployed to support police around the country, he said.

Until that added security is in place and quelling fears, Westerhof said the hundreds of volunteers in Ballito will control access in and out of the area.