A Maltese couple fears for their family in South Africa as deadly violence and protests take over the streets.
So far, 72 people people have died due to violence following the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma last week, who was given a 15-month prison sentence over corruption.
This imprisonment has led to widespread anger, with rioters taking to the streets in different parts of the country.
On videos sent to Lovin Malta, dead bodies can be seen lined up next to the road. Moving from town to town, protesters are looting shops, malls and even houses, and burning them down afterwards.
Lovin Malta spoke to Sarah May Degiorgio, a South African woman who lives in Malta with her Maltese husband and children. “Everyone’s afraid to speak out, everything is burnt down,” said her family member from South Africa.
Two areas in the country have been hit by the riots: Gauteng, the economic hub where Johannesburg is located, and KwaZulu-Natal, which is Zuma’s home province and political heartland.
May Degiorgio’s family, whom she hasn’t seen in two and a half years, lives in KwaZulu-Natal, and her father lives in Johannesburg.
As her relatives are at the frontline, contact with them is limited. Her aunt is a doctor with four clinics, which were all burnt down by rioters – including the medication that was stored there.
Many South Africans, including May Degiorgio’s friends, now struggle without food and medicine. “They have burnt down almost every shop we have in Pietermaritzburg. We have no food left, no medication. Babies have no formula. It is crazy.”
“I have family members sitting there with guns in their arms, waiting for people to come and loot. My cousin just learnt how to use a gun.”
“Living in South Africa right now is a total nightmare,” her friend from KwaZulu-Natal said. “It’s scary being here. Gunshots are being fired as we speak. I have to keep my babies calm.”
“People are getting hacked to death. They are burning down and looting places.”
There is no help from the government or the army. May Degiorgio’s friend says: “Our government won’t declare a state of emergency. The army has been useless. I have seen videos of female cops loading up their cars with food.”
So far, 1,300 people have been arrested. The violence is unprecedented in 27 years, since the end of the apartheid regime.
The arrest of Zuma was the catalyst for the riots. Low income levels and unemployment, which is at a record high of 32.6% of the workforce, are seen as the underlying issues that sparked outrage.
The current situation is bound to worsen the economic crisis, which was already hit by the pandemic. And the vaccinations will be on hold for many, while the rollout was already slow. Her dad, who is in his sixties, still hasn’t been vaccinated, as there are no vaccines available.
When May Degiorgio’s aunt had time to respond to worried messages, she wrote: “Yes, it is scary. We don’t know what’s next. There seem to be thousands of them. But there are also thousands of us – black, Indian, coloured, and white – who are all devastated. Fear of them is our worst enemy.”
“I’m begging for somebody to come and do something for them. I know I’m a small person, but maybe this might help,” May Degiorgio said.