Unrest in South Africa has claimed 212 lives, the government said today, a sharp jump from the 117 deaths announced the previous day.

Government minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told a news conference most of the new deaths had been recorded in the south-eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, the epicentre of the violence, but said the situation was "gradually and firmly returning to normality".

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he would not allow "anarchy and mayhem" to prevail, and suggested the wave of violent unrest had been deliberately provoked.

His government was doing all it could to deal with the turmoil, he said.

The looting and arson had severely dented investor confidence and hit South Africa's economic recovery, Ramaphosa said, speaking in Ethekwini Municipality, which includes the port city Durban, one of the worst-hit areas.

"We will not allow anarchy and mayhem," Ramaphosa said.

In a presentation to a parliamentary committee, police said that looting of malls and stores was still going on and foreign-owned shops were being hit.

Looting in Johannesburg

Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces were still volatile, and crowds had gathered in Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape provinces, they said. Kawzulu-Natal's main airport, King Shaka International, was also targeted.

The long-term social and economic cost of the unrest was also becoming clearer, with calls for the government to address underlying problems to head off more violence and despair.

Wall Street bank JPMorgan said the unrest would force South Africa's economy to contract by 3% in the third quarter and drag down full-year growth.

The rioting broke out in several parts of the country last week following the jailing of Ramaphosa's predecessor, Jacob Zuma, for his failure to appear at a corruption inquiry.

It swiftly degenerated into looting and destruction, driven by widespread anger over the poverty and inequality that persist nearly three decades after the end of white minority rule.

Ramaphosa said it was quite clear the incidents were "instigated" and "we are after these people". He did not specify whom.

He also expressed concern about rising racial tensions in some parts of the country.

Some white minority and Indian communities - who are generally better off than the Black community - had armed themselves to fight off rioters.

The military has called up all its reservists to bolster the army and police, with a total of 25,000 troops available to go to flashpoints.

The head of the armed forces, Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya, addressing soldiers in Alexandra, Johannesburg, said: "It is no longer just thuggery, this is economic sabotage... It is a threat to our people so you have to restore that freedom."

"You don't have to lower your guns."

The ransacking of stores has led to shortages of essential goods.

State logistics group Transnet said operations at Durban and Richards Bay ports were improving although road closures and fuel and food shortages were constraining its supply chain. Richards Bay had cleared all its shipping backlogs.

Retailer Massmart said protesters had looted 41 of its stores and two distribution centres, with four sites damaged by arson.

Ethekwini authorities also closed public beaches in north Durban because of a chemical spillage in a lagoon originating from a blaze in a chemical warehouse.

The government has characterised the violence as criminality.

But the Nelson Mandela Foundation - a legacy of the late leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and South Africa's first Black president - said violence had been growing at "disturbing levels" in the last two decades.

The state has focused on strengthening law enforcement but neglected strategies to tackle the problem's roots, it said.

"There are too many people feeling discarded and in despair, too many people with nothing to lose, too many people who have seen political and other elites at all levels play fast and loose with the law, with impunity," the foundation said.