Thousands of protesters marched through South Africa’s cities on Monday, calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to resign over the lack of jobs and electricity, as security forces guarded malls and streets to prevent any violence and looting.
South Africans are furious about failures of the governing African National Congress (ANC) to deliver services and create jobs – a third of South Africans are out of work. Analysts expect it to lose its parliamentary majority for the first time in three decades in national elections next year.
Meanwhile, state electricity utility Eskom is implementing the worst rolling blackouts on record, leaving households in the dark for up to 10 hours a day.
“We are not going to do anything. We just walk nicely and raise our concerns,” protest leader Julius Malema, head of the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), said in front of a large crowd gathered at Church Square in Pretoria’s city centre before marching to the president’s office.
The EFF party, whose supporters are mainly poor black South Africans who feel marginalised since the ANC ended white minority rule in 1994, called for a national shutdown – a move which was successful to the extent that many businesses were closed and workers stayed away for lack of transport.
In central Sandton, the financial hub and one of the wealthiest districts in Africa, EFF protesters danced and sang outside its chrome and glass office buildings. Others put their litter in designated bins, heeding calls for a peaceful protest.
Many had crossed a bridge over a freeway from the next-door impoverished township of Alexandra.
“Look at the rich people in Sandton (while) we in Alexandra … are struggling,” said 35-year-old township resident Wendy Sithole, who has not worked since losing her job at a fast food restaurant during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns.
“I’m hungry. There’s no job, there’s no electricity … there’s not enough water,” she added, wearing the trademark red EFF T-shirt.
The ANC said in a statement it was “fully committed to doing what the people of South Africa expect, demand, and deserve”, but that the EFF protest was “extremist and regressive”.
In several parts of Johannesburg, protesters waved banners saying “Ankole must go”, referring to Ramaphosa’s love for the Ankole cattle breed. Another read “our people sleep hungry”.
Many shops were shuttered and businesses closed in anticipation of any repeat of the looting and arson in July 2021, when protests at the arrest of ex-leader Jacob Zuma morphed into an outpouring of anger over inequality.
At 2PM local time, the South African rand was trading at 18.5050 against the dollar, down about 0.5 percent. The stock market seemed unperturbed with both the broader all-share index and the top-40 index up more than 2 percent.
South African security forces said on Monday that 87 people had been arrested ahead of the protests. A video showed police firing stun grenades at a small crowd on Sunday night in Johannesburg’s central business district.
Authorities did not comment directly on that protest, but national intelligence body NatJOINTS said in a statement “law enforcement officers are on high alert and will continue to prevent and combat any acts of criminality”.
The South African military has deployed around 3,500 troops for a month until April 17 to prevent and combat crime in cooperation with the police, parliament said on Sunday. *Reuters*