South African Faith Leaders Propose Amnesty Period to Allow Stolen Items Return After Riots

The South African Council of Churches has proposed that the government declare an amnesty period of two weeks in which people can return stolen property to the police and not be charged, the Associated Press reported.

"We need leaders of all faiths everywhere, civic and community leaders, traditional leaders in rural communities, and business and trade unions in the workplace, all of us to pull together and chart a path of restoration," Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the ecumenical group, wrote in an open letter.

"The soul of the South African society will be built from the ashes of shame that we are witnessing," Mpumlwana said.

Meanwhile, the number of people trying to spend money stained with green dye—evidence that it was stolen from one of the hundreds of ATMs broken into during the riots—is increasing, according to the South African Banking Risk Information Center. It said the notes won't be honored.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Faith Leaders Propose Amnesty Period for Looters
To restore respect for the law, the South African Council of Churches has proposed that the government declare a two-week amnesty when people can return stolen property to the police with being charged. Above, armed community members gather around a fire to keep warm at a roadblock set up in Phoenix Township, North Durban, on Thursday. Guillem Sartorio/Getty Images

Standing at the entrance to a looted mall and surrounded by soldiers, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed Friday to restore order to the country after a week of violence set off by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.

Visiting the port city of Durban in hard-hit KwaZulu-Natal province, Zuma's home area, Ramaphosa said the chaos and violence had been "planned and coordinated" and that the instigators will be prosecuted.

"We have identified a good number of them and we will not allow anarchy and mayhem to just unfold in our country," he said.

As army tanks rolled by the trashed Bridge City mall, Ramaphosa said the deployment of 25,000 troops would end the violence and rampant theft in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces.

South Africa's unrest erupted after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to testify at a state-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.

Protests quickly escalated into theft in township areas. In Durban, rioters attacked retail areas and industrial centers where they emptied warehouses and set them alight. The burned-out shells still smoldered Friday.

More than 2,200 people have been arrested for theft and vandalism and 117 people have died, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, acting minister in the presidency, said Thursday. Many were trampled to death when shops were looted, according to police.

The army rollout in KwaZulu-Natal is expected to restore order in the coastal province within a few days. An uneasy calm has been secured in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city and industrial hub.

In a sign of a return to stability, a strategic highway linking Durban and Johannesburg reopened Friday after being closed for a week, officials announced. South Africa's unrest first flared at the Mooi River toll gate for the N3 highway where more than 20 trucks were burned.

The military will patrol the highway but drivers are warned to use the road with care. "It is vitally important to proceed with extreme caution and to stay alert at all times," said the highway authority in a tweet Friday.

The military is also working to keep open the N2 highway, which links Cape Town to Durban. The highways are vital transport routes carrying fuel, food and other goods. The rail line to the strategic Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richard's Bay was also closed by the unrest, the state-owned transportation company, Transnet said earlier this week.

With order restored in Gauteng, authorities have begun holding residents accountable. Police in Johannesburg have started recovering stolen property and arresting suspects.

South African Faith Leaders Propose Amnesty Period
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday visits an area in Durban that was badly affected by social unrest in the past week. Associated Press