CAPE TOWN -- South Africa deployed troops to areas around Johannesburg and the Indian Ocean port city of Durban on Monday as widespread protests and looting sparked by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma left six people dead.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was planning to address the nation, the presidency said in a statement, after a Sunday warning against "ethnic mobilization" in a clear reference to Zuma's Zulu supporters in KwaZulu-Natal, the traditional Zulu homeland.
The nation braced for possible increasing unrest as the country's highest court this week hears Zuma's appeal of his 15-month prison sentence. The Constitutional Court is expected to reject the appeal.
Local television footage showed mass looting at shopping malls in parts of Johannesburg and Durban, with people making off with televisions and other appliances, while some businesses were burned and major highways closed.
More than 200 people were arrested and six people -- four in Gauteng and two in KwaZulu-Natal -- died from gunshot wounds, a statement from the the government's intelligence agency read. There was no information on the identities of those killed or the circumstances of the shootings.
The military had been deployed in support of the police, the South African National Defense Force said.
Protests broke out in KwaZulu-Natal Province after Zuma handed himself over to prison authorities Wednesday under order from the Constitutional Court, which held him in contempt for repeatedly refusing to appear before a commission investigating allegations of corruption during his nine years as president that ended in 2018. Zuma has denied widespread corruption during his presidency.
The unrest comes as South Africa battles a severe third wave of the coronavirus pandemic driven by the contagious delta variant. The pandemic has exacerbated poverty and unemployment across the country, which has long suffered from extremely high levels of joblessness and inequalities that persist nearly three decades after the end of apartheid in 1994.
In power for 27 years since South Africa's first fully democratic election in 1994, the African National Congress finds itself divided over the legacy of Zuma and whether he should be imprisoned at the age of 79.
The initial protests in support of Zuma after his jailing were by Zulu supporters rallied by family members and party officials loyal to the former president, but the political protests soon turned to looting.
"While these actions are being characterized by some people as a form of political protest, they are now clearly acts of sheer criminality," Jessie Duarte, the party's acting secretary general, said at a media briefing.