JUDY WOODRUFF: In South Africa, rioting and looting rocked parts of the country again overnight. Police say more than 70 people have been killed and 1, 200 arrested since last week. Nick Schifrin reports.
NICK SCHIFRIN: It started as political protests and devolved into chaos across two of South Africa's largest cities, of looting, ransacked shelves, and malls turned into smoldering buildings. Some looters admitted they stole, but said their crimes were born from poverty.
SELLO MARAKAI, South Africa (through translator): I guess the real reason is because we have nothing. And when you see other people stealing, at some point, you realize that shops will close and you will be left with nothing.
NICK SCHIFRIN: In response, police and soldiers fired into crowds, and tried to restore order. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa accuses looters of taking advantage of civil unrest.
CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, South African President: What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality.
NICK SCHIFRIN: The short-term spark was the imprisonment of former South African President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court. He's accused of fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. But the long-term embers are entrenched poverty and unemployment, nearly 30 years after the end of apartheid.
DR. RALPH MATHEKGA, University of Johannesburg: It is the dehumanizing effect of the -- of inequality, and also the reality that South Africa just cannot continue the way in which we have been continuing.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and fellow at the University of Johannesburg. He says the African National Congress party has failed to deliver the dignity it promised to South Africans, and is roiled by infighting. And Zuma himself became synonymous with corruption. The pandemic led to severe lockdowns that further increased unemployment. This is the worst violence since apartheid, . And analysts warn, if the unrest leads to Zuma's freedom, that could challenge the country's rule of law.
DR. RALPH MATHEKGA: If the court releases him, it will have meant that, if you orchestrate chaos, you are going to be able to evade accountability.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Today, parts of South Africa are still on fire, and there's no sign anyone can douse the flames. For the "PBS NewsHour, " I'm Nick Schifrin.