Johannesburg — Police in South Africa say 72 people have been killed and over 1,200 have been arrested in unrest set off by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma. In a statement Tuesday night, police Maj. Gen. Mathapelo Peters said many of the deaths were caused by stampedes when shops were being looted.
Police trying to control the chaos were completely outnumbered by the looters, and soldiers joined police Tuesday to try to quell the violence. CBS News correspondent Debora Patta reports police were using rubber bullets and tear gas against the crowd.
The mayhem was sparked by Zuma's arrest for contempt of court last week. It began in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, but over the weekend it morphed into opportunistic looting and riots, with protesters blocking roads and setting vehicles alight.
Zuma was imprisoned on the orders of South Africa's constitutional court, which last month found him guilty of refusing to answer claims of corruption at a commission of inquiry. The 15-month jail sentence was hailed as a victory for the rule of law afterrepeatedly attacked the courts and even predicted a popular uprising against judges.
The former president denies all wrongdoing and appealed to the constitutional court for his sentence to be reviewed. Meanwhile, the violence following his arrest has exposed deep tensions with the ruling African National Congress party that he used to lead.
Many of the deaths occurred in chaotic stampedes as scores of people looted food, electric appliances, liquor, and clothing from retail centers, KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala told the press on Tuesday morning.
"Yesterday's events brought a lot of sadness. The number of people who have died in KwaZulu-Natal alone stands at 26. Many of them died from being trampled on during a stampede while people were looting items," said Zikalala.
In South Africa's most populous province of Gauteng, which includes the largest city, Johannesburg, at least six people had died, officials said early on Tuesday. But that was before another 10 bodies were discovered following looting in the Johannesburg township of Soweto.
The deployment of 2,500 soldiers to support the South African police hadn't stopped the rampant looting on Tuesday, although arrests were being made at some areas in Johannesburg.
What had been sporadic pro-Zuma violence spiraled into the current spree of criminal theft in poor, township areas of the two provinces. The lawlessness had not spread to South Africa's other nine provinces as of Tuesday.
The Constitutional Court, the country's highest court, heard Zuma's application to have his sentence rescinded on Monday. Zuma's lawyer presented his arguments that the top court made errors when sentencing Zuma to prison. After 10 hours of testimony on Monday, the court judges said they would study the arguments and announce their decision at a later date.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.