Police fired rubber bullets Wednesday as protests erupted in the central business district of South Africa’s capitol Pretoria with rioters setting several small businesses in the area alight.
The chaos broke out after local taxi drivers clashed with drug dealers operating in the area, according to the Sowetan newspaper. The taxi drivers had reportedly decided to target sellers of “nyaope,” a common street drug in South Africa.
After a taxi driver was allegedly shot and killed in the confrontation, riots broke out and quickly escalated, with hundreds of taxis blocking major roads and the city suspending bus service. Police urged vehicles to avoid the area.
Footage of people who appeared to be looting circulated Wednesday in local media alongside images of firefighters struggling to contain fires blazing in shop fronts.
Some of the shops targeted by rioters were owned by foreigners, according to local news reports, whose businesses have come under attack in the capital area in the past.
Officials said criminals were exploiting the tense situation.
“Those who have burned down this place and those who are looting the shops are pure criminal elements,” Gauteng Police Commissioner Elias Mawela told eNCA News. “We’re not going to hesitate to deal with those ones.”