By the second day of the ANC Youth League’s “economic freedom” march the real intention of the protest filtered through when songs calling for the replacement of President Jacob Zuma were sung. CARIEN DU PLESSIS took the Gautrain to Pretoria to be there.
The eery sense of impeccable discipline about the ANC Youth League’s march gave the impression that the organisation meant business. Also, walking the song that President Jacob Zuma always used to sing, Siyaya ePitoli (We’re going to Pretoria), kind of gave the impression that it’s not just talk for the League.
Pushing to get through the narrow gate leading to the Union Buildings lawn on Friday morning was a strangely orderly affair. It’s almost unnatural that people who are so hot (32 degrees Celcius, to be more exact), so young, tired, angry, and perhaps a little hungry as well, should be so patient and disciplined.
More than 5,000 people passed through that gate without incident. Maybe they were tired from not sleeping after marching most of Thursday and the night, but then again, the day before they behaved impeccably too.
But being driven by a cause does that to you. And boy did that cause become clear on Friday, with the young ones singing songs that President Jacob Zuma should be “changed”, while making that unsettling soccer hand sign indicating a substitute – the one that was used by the youth to get rid of then president Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane 2007.
It was followed by a showing of (clad) asses turned in the direction of the Union Buildings. The crowd was unhappy about being made to wait.
ANC Youth League President Julius Malema, who spoke from the back of the truck that was used in the march, now parked at the bottom of the Union Building steps behind the wire fence that separates the lawn (and the crowds) from the sloped gardens and steps.
He looked a bit tired, his yellow T-shirt with Madiba’s face on it (the hero who he wants people to believe he is turning into) having a few crease marks from stretching around the tummy area, and it seemed like he wanted to get the gathering over and done with. His energy as public speaker was, however, undiminished.
The Presidency had sent its Director-General, Cassius Lubisi, to receive the memorandum, but he was politely turned down by the League. “We need a minister, and if you’re not a minister, don’t even come close,” Malema said. Deputy ministers are, apparently, also okay. Malema’s reasoning was that people voted for ministers and deputies (who are in political positions), but not for those in administrative positions. Malema called for a minister about two or three times, in between sitting down in the truck to rest. If a minister didn’t come to receive the League’s memorandum, the kids would have gone home with it, and made another date with the Presidency.
While we were waiting, one police officer speculated that the Presidency was struggling to reach Zuma by phone (the President is in Perth for the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting), but eventually newly appointed Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi descended the steps, suited and fresh from a meeting, and perhaps just a tad nervous. As unionist at teachers’ union Sadtu, Nxesi had been part of many protests, but he was a virgin at being on the other side.
Malema was triumphant, and declared that the League “always get what we want”. Despite having shown some irritation and suspicion earlier at whoever had deployed the special police task forces to be there (and we all know whose best friend Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa is), Malema made it clear that “we did not come here to fight with government. We support their programmes, but we came here to say we want more.”
He also tried to silence those critics (like SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande) who said the aim of the march was to topple Zuma, by saying: “This is a popular government. This government can’t be compared with the governments of Egypt and Tunisia. It has been elected and you will come here if you have issues to raise with government. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the ANC, but you want the ANC to do more.”
He handed the memorandum to Nxesi, who congratulated the League on the peaceful march and said Cabinet would study the League’s demands, which included nationalisation of the mines, expropriation of land without compensation (which would require a change to the Constitution), free education – the usual stuff.
The statistics around the march will become the stuff of struggle legend. It will probably go down in history that Malema had walked the whole 60km, although there was talk of him having bailed at 35km.
After initial reports that Malema had done parts of the journey on the back of the truck, the ANC Youth League issued a statement saying that this was “a desperate and disgusting lie”. In this game of chicken, er, sorry, economic oppression, with the ANC’s big shots, it is important for Malema to appear to be the one who didn’t blink first, or abandon his people.
Malema said the first group of walkers arrived at the Caledonian stadium in Pretoria at about 4.30am, which would have meant that League spokesman Floyd Shivambu’s press release just after 3am, stating that the marchers on foot arrived at 2.56am, was a little premature perhaps.
Malema also said 25,000 people took part in the march in total, after he on Monday said 5,000 was expected. It’s difficult to say if he was right, but media estimates had put the crowd at about 5,000 to 8,000.
Whatever the truth, Malema has won this round convincingly, and his endurance has won him respect even from people who might not have been open to respecting him in the past. It’s going to get more interesting from here on, we suspect. An ANC Youth League big shot suggested that the organisation would organise another big rally around the party’s centenary celebrations next year. “This is not the end but the beginning of the fight for economic freedom,” he said.
So, now that they’ve shown us the determination they’re capable of, expect a lot more of the same from the ANC Youth League. DM
Photo: ANCYL president Julius Malema addressing his supporters during the economic freedom march. Reuters.
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.