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South Africa Pushed to the Brink in Test of Ramaphosa Authority

  • Police have failed to contain rampant looting and arson
  • Violence was triggered by jailing of ex-President Jacob Zuma
Residents move bricks during a cleanup operation following rioting in the Soweto district of Johannesburg on July 15.
Residents move bricks during a cleanup operation following rioting in the Soweto district of Johannesburg on July 15.Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Deadly protests in South Africa are stretching the nation’s social fabric to breaking point, scarring an already weakened economy and exposing fault lines within the party that’s held power for more than a quarter-century.

The official death toll during rioting that followed former President Jacob Zuma’s July 7 imprisonment on contempt of court charges jumped to 117 late Thursday as additional soldiers took to the streets to restore calm. Damages from days of rampant looting and arson run to billions of rand, some areas are facing food and medicine shortages, and business confidence is shot.