South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said the violence that rocked the country was pre-planned, describing it as an attack on democracy.

The riots were sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.

The death toll has risen to 212, more than 100 since Thursday, the government said.

Police officers have been defending the distribution of food in supermarkets after several days of widespread looting led to shortages.

An estimated $ 1 billion (7 720 million) worth of stock was stolen in KwaZulu-Natal with at least 800 looted retail stores, said a provincial mayor.

“It is quite clear that all these riots and looting incidents were instigated – there were people who planned it and coordinated it,” Mr Ramaphosa said during a visit to KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Zuma province and the epicenter of the violence. .

The president said the riots were an attempt to hijack South Africa’s democracy. He told supporters that the instigators had been identified, but gave no details.

“We are going after them,” he added.

In KwaZulu-Natal, many of them have been queuing for food, sometimes from the early hours of the morning just to pick up some items.

People at the reception told the BBC they were worried about feeding their families, getting formula and diapers for their babies, and even pet food.

The week of violence in the province has left roads damaged or blocked by protesters, and the government wants to ensure that food supplies are not disrupted, said Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, an interim minister.

Soldiers have been deployed to potential firing points and police are providing escorts to transport oxygen, medicine and other key goods, she said.

In a 30-minute televised speech later Friday, Mr Ramaphosa said there was no shortage of food or supplies and urged people against panic buying.

He said more than 2,500 people had been arrested in connection with the riots and called on South Africans to unite.

“If we stand together, no uprising or violence in this country will succeed,” he said. “We are committed to a fight to protect our democracy, our Constitution, our livelihood and our security.

“This is not a battle we can afford to lose.”

More about the South African unrest:

The protests began last week after Zuma turned himself in to police to serve a 15-month sentence for contempt of court.

Zuma supporters reacted furiously to his imprisonment, blocking major roads and calling for a shutdown to demand his release.

The protests turned into riots in a first degree rarely in South Africa. Businesses in every sector were looted, burned and bombed with gasoline in towns and cities across KwaZulu-Natal, as well as Gauteng, which surrounds the country’s largest city, Johannesburg.

(Additional reporting by Samantha Granville)

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