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EXPLAINER

How the EFF’s planned shutdown might play out

How the EFF’s planned shutdown might play out
Economic Freedom Fighters supporters protest during a march in Pretoria against State Capture on 2 November 2016. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)

The Economic Freedom Fighters have announced a national shutdown on Monday, 20 March, sparking concerns about violence and looting. We explain what is known so far.

What exactly is the EFF planning to do on Monday, 20 March?

They have called for a “National Shutdown to demand electricity and the resignation of Cyril Ramaphosa”. The party is asking all business and industrial activity to stop for the day, and for all workers and students to stay at home.

In addition, there will be marches in major cities — but the locations are deliberately being kept a secret by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), leader Julius Malema said in a press briefing on Wednesday, to avoid the police.

eff shutdown

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters protest against the H&M store in the Mall of Africa in Johannesburg on 15 January 2018. EFF members vandalised H&M stores after an advert with an African boy wearing a sweatshirt with a design that sparked racist complaints. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

Aren’t a bunch of people off work on Monday anyway?

Correct. Because Tuesday, 21 March is a public holiday — Human Rights Day — many people are planning on taking off Monday anyway to create an extra long weekend. Many schools are also closing on Monday. All that is entirely independent of the EFF’s demands.

Calling for a shutdown on Monday, then, is something of a masterstroke for the EFF, given the widespread pre-existing plans not to work on that day anyway. This will permit the Red Berets to take credit for a cessation of activity that they had absolutely nothing to do with.

Read more: March 20th: EFF’s Day of Thunder/Slumber is approaching, and SA is still nonplussed

How have they been advertising the day?

It is no exaggeration to say that the party has gone all out. Street posters advertising the shutdown have been put up in all major cities, which can be an expensive business. EFF-branded bakkies have also been witnessed cruising the streets with loudhailers, warning businesses to shut down on Monday, 20 March or face looting.

The EFF first announced this shutdown in mid-January. If the day is a failure, it will be a major embarrassment for the Fighters — who can nonetheless be expected to claim it as a triumph regardless of the reality.

Why has the proposed shutdown been so controversial?

A few reasons. One is that shutdowns are hellishly expensive; the DA estimates that this one could cost the already moribund economy some R1.2-billion.

But primarily, the controversy is inextricably linked to the fact that the shutdown is being organised by the EFF — a party whose public association with violence was most recently cemented at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, when EFF MPs stormed the stage and seemed to be heading straight for the President until security intervened.

eff shutdown

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters on a march against State Capture in Pretoria on 2 November 2016. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)

As such, there is a reasonable expectation that the shutdown may be accompanied by some degree of disorder. Party leaders, who are masters of doublespeak as always, have contributed to this perception through the aforementioned instructions to local businesses to shut down or potentially be looted.

On the one hand, this could be interpreted as a responsible attempt to safeguard businesses if party members get out of hand despite the best efforts of EFF leadership to control them. On the other hand, the instructions can also be read as a veiled threat: cooperate with our shutdown or face the consequences.

There have also been unconfirmed reports, from Gqeberha and Emalahleni, of abandoned tyres suddenly turning up at intersections and other central locations which may be intended for burning during Monday’s protest action.  

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In parts of the country badly affected by the July 2021 riots, the atmosphere is particularly tense. Residents of small towns on the outskirts of Durban told Daily Maverick this week that communities were braced for a repeat of the July 2021 carnage which saw hundreds left dead. Scars still run very deep in these areas, with an apparently widespread perception that neither the media nor authorities properly grasped the scale of the chaos and violence in KwaZulu-Natal that accompanied the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma.

It is important to note, though, that at this stage fears of violence are just that: fears. There is no credible information at this point to suggest that a deliberate campaign of violence is planned — and stoking panic would be massively irresponsible given the potential for deathly vigilantism, as happened in the July 2021 riots.

In a statement on Tuesday, the EFF said that the idea that the shutdown would be characterised by violence was a “fallacy” premised on “the racist presumption that African people have no capacity to express themselves in a peaceful manner”.

eff shutdown

Economic Freedom Fighters supporters protest during a march in Pretoria on 2 November 2016. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)

But Malema did little to defuse tensions over the event at his Wednesday press briefing. There, the EFF leader taunted the national police commissioner, referred to the shutdown as the beginning of a “revolution”, and said anybody attempting to prevent EFF members from exercising their constitutional right to protest would “meet their maker”.

He also rather cunningly suggested that any violence erupting out of protests in the Western Cape would be the result of “agents provocateurs” paid by the DA to stir up trouble in the EFF’s name.

Are any other groups participating in the protests?

Malema says that the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) will be joining in, although other unions are steering clear. The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the Land Party are allegedly also participating, but this should add negligible numbers. There appears to be some degree of buy-in from student unions.

A number of other industry bodies have expressed vocal disapproval of the event, with the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) saying taxis will run as normal because “the economy is already messed up and we don’t want to be adding more fuel to the fire”.

How have authorities responded?

The police have said that the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) is readying itself to ensure that there is no criminality on the day.

By far the most robust response in advance of the shutdown has come from the DA and the City of Cape Town, with the blue party doing what it does best: going to court. Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has been adamant that it will be business as usual on Monday.

The DA’s lawyers have also drafted “a template affidavit that can be used by any business owner who has been intimidated by any EFF representatives, to report such behaviour and press a formal charge of intimidation against the leadership of the EFF and local representatives who act on behalf of the EFF’s national leadership, and to request that the SAPS prevent, combat and investigate any violation of the legislation that regulates demonstrations, gatherings and events in South Africa”.

What’s the sense from the rest of South Africa?

It seems many people are torn between being sick of load shedding and sick of EFF stunts: on social media, where the EFF usually enjoys disproportionate support compared to their real-life polling figures, there has been a surprising degree of pushback to the idea.

A number of civil society groups have condemned the shutdown. The South African Christian Leadership Institute called on the EFF to reconsider its plans, suggesting: “Instead of intimidating workers on their way to work, let us cheer them on and find ways to provide more opportunities for gainful employment into active work.” 

The ANC is unsurprisingly less than impressed with the project. A statement from the ruling party on Wednesday said: “There is absolutely nothing revolutionary about the EFF march, but rather a populist effort that seeks to promote lawlessness and a feeble attempt to invoke the Arab Spring Revolution mindset.”

It continued: “The ANC joins South Africans from all walks of life who have condemned this shutdown in the strongest possible terms. These attempts at insurrection and overthrow of a democratically elected President from a party that has failed to garner more than 6% of the national vote must be exposed for what they are. Our people should not be hoodwinked into supporting anarchy and violence under the pretext of service delivery.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    “Our people should not be hoodwinked into supporting anarchy and violence under the pretext of service delivery.”
    Yet the same Morons gang up at local level to split the spoils
    The Irony of seeing the two clowns Fixfokall and Lesufi on the news dressed in designer Para military gear denouncing the EFF brings a picture to mind of Lesufi dancing with the Looters as they outvoted the coalition in Jhbg. Eish

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    What a circus we’ve made of democracy when such a tiny, irrelevant, desperate party can cause so much panic, and this is before the planned event!

  • Jon Quirk says:

    What we all intuitively know, is that for all the present ills in our society, an anarchic, destructive, EFF-led rampage through our streets, factories, malls, hospitals and schools is both not the answer and also decidedly unhelpful.

    Talk-talk, Jaw-jaw, not Ju-Ju is the way to resolve our deep issues; though a president who does something more than “looking shocked”, calling for more “consultations” and actually doing things would help.

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    The EFF says “the racist presumption that African people have no capacity to express themselves in a peaceful manner”. Sadly the evidence to date has been that this is true, that African people indeed do NOT have the capacity to express themselves in a peaceful manner. Every single protest involving African people has resulted in either burning tyres, intimidation, violence against innocents or the destruction of private or public property. Name one, just one, protest where this was not the case, I’d like to see my supposition proved incorrect.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Let us never forget that it was Malema (ex-ANC Youth League) and Vavi (ex-COSATU) who bulldozed Jacob Zuma into power, and simply walked away with apology once Sate Capture was put on steroids by Zuma. Malema and Vavi are personally responsible for the state of South Africa today through those actions and we have to remind everyone in the country, every day, that they are the architects of our collapse. They haven’t changed their spots and will do everything they can to keep on destroying South Africa for their own selfish ends: POWER!

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Why have the reply buttons been disabled? Irritating – you can’t have a decent exchange! But anyway, @IanGwilt – spot on, the duplicitous nature of the ANC is galling (although the DA having had the PA as a coalition partner isn’t far behind!)
    @DennisBailey – yup!
    @JonQuirk – precisely: when you have a President who has a complete lack of interest in the country, you can expect the loudest, most destructive populists to emerge and causes chaos.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Let’s see how the EFF does when it tries to stop the taxis from operating…

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    “the racist presumption that African people have no capacity to express themselves in a peaceful manner”

    At least when it comes to the EFF the statement of automatic violence at just about every opportunity is true based on what we have seen. I don’t think most people believe its an African trait per se, but it definitely is an EFF trait.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The article contains a lot of false assumptions and even blatant lies. The first incorrect assumption is that people would be taking the Monday as a holiday anyway. This assumption is incorrect and does not factor a number of other issues that schools have just reopened and people do not have the money and luxury to take holidays willy nilly to do nothing with no electricity to boot. The second issue they do not factor is that people have Easter Holidays coming up and do not want to mess up what they have been planning to do for Easters with taking a holiday on Monday that is not linked to the end of the month except for the financial services industry that must be opened to serve people. This actually debunks the assumption that people would take the day off as a holiday and sit at home without electricity. There has been no announcement by schools and universities that Monday is a public holiday this is a blatant lie the journalists are pushing. If anything, the people would be staying away because they support the action. Rich people must not be allowed to control the narrative of abuse by the ANC government with the support of its journalists. The fact that the security apparatus is behaving like the Apartheid security apparatus is not lost to some of us. We note the insults by the rich in these pages of the poor with amazement. The DA that is opposed to the action is telling us about its preparations for Stage 8 in Cape Town. Cyril is preparing for nothing.

    • Rehana Moola says:

      What a load of …. ! Many schools are closed on Monday. Many people have taken leave on Monday to make a long weekend of it. And your attempt at deflection is weak. Malema and Floyd live rich in every way except when they’re campaigning as the party for the poor and dispossessed. So, in the words of Khaya Magaxa, OMG, give me a break!

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    @EpsilonIndi – I lived in Braamfontein in the late 80s and early 90s as a student and had the pleasure of watching many marches from my balcony that were entirely peaceful. Thousands of people, including massive union marches wound their way on a regular basis down Smit St and others with no looting, burning, smashing of cars or any other anti-social behaviour. I think it was because the ANC and Union leaders in those days were more principled, more respected, more intellectual and better organised than the abject, puerile, populists that masquerade as ‘leaders’ today. Today’s mob – and mob mentality they definitely have – offer absolutely nothing other than self-interest and the childish belief that anarchy equates to being a Big Man and Powerful: the most powerful leaders don’t need to threaten violence or destruction; they are powerful because they can control large numbers of people in a dignified manner.

  • Bill Gild says:

    The “reply” button has been inoperative for awhile. If DM has decided to do away with this option, get rid of the option.

  • Bill Gild says:

    Mussolini’s march on Rome (1922), and Hindenburg’s nomination of Hitler as German leader (1933) – both incidents arising out of economic and political turmoil in the two countries – spring to mind.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    It must be noted that this is another appalling excuse for journalism by Rebecca Davis. Her bias has become boringly predictable. I wonder why she still has column space with DM?

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Yes. Idiotic to have ‘reply’ buttons that do not work. Remove them DM. Why annoy your subscribers?

  • Inga Lawson says:

    “….contributed to this perception through the aforementioned instructions to local businesses to shut down or potentially be looted.”
    Surely this is criminal intent/treason

    Might be a memory out of some cowboy movie but the refrain keeps playing in my head: “they shoot looters, don’t they”. Probably not with our over optimistic, over liberal constitution. Our long sad history considered.
    Yet my then 90 year old father was still convinced that it was less than 10% percent of people that terrorised the other 90+%.
    I still love and am proud to be counted as a South African. Time to stand up and be counted.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Benito Malema must be delighted with all the press coverage. Please call them a minority party (12%) whenever they are mentioned- anyone reading the press would assume a much bigger party.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Who is funding the EFF and why?
    We need answers to these fundamental question because once we know…we know who and what we are really dealing with!

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