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South Africans in NZ terrified for family caught up in deadly riots

South African expats say they are terrified for family members caught up in deadly riots that are breaking out across their homeland.

Parts of South Africa have been engulfed in violence following the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma. He was imprisoned for 15 months after not showing up to an inquiry investigating corruption allegations during his reign.

Six dead in South Africa riots after jailing of ex-leader Jacob Zuma

Supporters initially took to the streets in force calling for his release, but that has now turned into widespread rioting across parts of the country.

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The deadly unrest follows the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. Source: 1 NEWS

Shopping centres have been ransacked, with homes and other property attacked by armed rioters.

Ten people have died so far, with hundreds arrested by police, who are struggling to disperse large groups of looters.

"It doesn't seem real," said Leigh-Ann Newton, a South African expat who lives in Auckland.

Former President Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses the press at his home in Nkandla. Source: Associated Press

Her parents, extended family, and many friends remain in South Africa, and are hunkering down in their homes in the hope they might avoid the violence.

She said in some areas residents have banded together in small militia groups to fight back.

"My auntie, her husband wanted to go out and be part of a group to save the town and my auntie begged him not to do it," Newton said.

"I've got some family on the coast where at the moment - while we are speaking - there are people rioting and looting and trying to burn down a town."

South Africa's military have been called in to restore order.

"There is no grievance nor any political cause that can justify the violence and the destruction," said South Africa's president Cyril Ramaphosa.