The South African government is sending 25,000 soldiers to areas it calls "flashpoints" as it tries to stop violence from spreading across the country.
Protests against the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court grew into civil unrest late last week.
Mobs have looted and destroyed parts of cities, burning and destroying factories and warehouses. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds injured.
As soldiers stream into areas threatened by mobs, so, too, are vigilantes.
In video sent to VOA by a senior army officer, private citizens can be seen opening fire with pistols, shotguns and rifles on a crowd trying to enter a suburb in the port city of Durban. The mobs were armed with bricks, clubs and large, broad-bladed knives.
Security analysts told VOA that people are taking the law into their own hands amid an erosion of faith in the ability of the police to protect them.
The violence in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma's home province, prompted Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini to plead with his subjects.
"It has brought great shame upon us all. I never thought ... I would see our own people so complicit in burning down the country. ... My father's people are committing suicide," the king said.
The violence began after Zuma surrendered to prison authorities last week to begin serving a sentence for refusing to testify in an investigation of alleged corruption during his years in office. The investigation has split the African National Congress, which has led the country since apartheid ended 27 years ago.
Zuma's supporters took to the streets, but the protests quickly turned into looting, as a country struggling with 30% unemployment, constant power outages and the coronavirus pandemic.