Leonard Hlathi, a police spokesman in the eastern South African site of the protests, said investigators were trying to determine whether the civilian was killed by police or protesters. Demonstrators angered by what they see as poor government service fired on police and attacked journalists. Hlathi said police responded with rubber and live bullets.
Top officers were sent in to lead the operation as police struggled to control the violence, South Africa's national police commissioner, Bheki Cele, said in a statement. Forces trained in crowd control also were sent in after the protests that broke out Monday worsened Tuesday.
The escalation, Cele said, "included the burning of tires, hurling of stones and firing of live ammunition by some demonstrators as well as the assault of a media crew."
Such protests over lack of roads, schools, running water and other basic services have become common in South Africa, where the gap between rich and poor is among the widest in the world.
The latest demonstrations in the eastern town of Ermelo come less than a week after South African President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation address, in which he emphasized plans to create jobs and provide basic services faster. South Africa has an unemployment rate of almost 25 percent.
In a statement Tuesday, Zuma's African National Congress party condemned the violence and destruction of property in Ermelo.
"We call on communities to engage constructively with government and not to destroy what the country struggled for decades to achieve," the ANC said, adding that it also urged local government officials to "urgently address community concerns."