EFF ‘SHUTDOWN’ SHOWDOWN
Bus pelted with stones, Malema leads march to Union Buildings, with scores arrested in parts of SA
After days of anticipation and considerable hype and threats of coercion, the EFF’s protest – a planned shutdown of the country – unfolded on Monday morning. The protest, against rolling blackouts and President Cyril Ramaphosa, among other things, took place a day before Human Rights Day and effectively turned the weekend into a four-day break for many. By mid-morning, 87 people had been arrested and there were sporadic reports of violence and intimidation, with law enforcement officers highly visible in hotspots around the country. EFF leader Julius Malema led a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, with the likes of Carl Niehaus and Duduzile Zuma turning up in support.
In the footage below, a bus belonging to a Limpopo government-owned company, Great North Transport, is pelted with stones, allegedly by a group of EFF supporters, at Blood River village outside Polokwane as it was ferrying passengers to town. See a second video further down.
Law enforcement officers had arrested 87 protesters around the country by 9am, for public violence-related offences, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) said on Monday morning.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Show of force ahead of Monday’s planned national shutdown”
Of the 87 arrested, 41 were in Gauteng, 29 in North West and 15 in the Free State, NatJoints confirmed. Other arrests had been made in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.
Additionally, 24,300 tyres had been confiscated by law enforcement. This comes after various community police forums and neighbourhood watches said they had noticed car tyres that had been dumped in certain areas before the planned shutdown, potentially to block roads.
“6,000 [tyres] were seized in the Western Cape, 4,500 in the Free State, 3,600 in Gauteng, 1,513 in the Eastern Cape and a few in other provinces… These were tyres that were strategically placed for acts of criminality,” NatJoints said.
A bus belonging to a Limpopo government-owned company, Great North Transport, was attacked, allegedly by a group of EFF supporters, at Blood River village outside Polokwane as it was ferrying passengers to town. The bus was pelted with stones, forcing it to a halt. (See video clip above)
Company spokesperson Patrick Monkoe said the driver suffered minor injuries and was taken to hospital for observation. “He will later on open a case at Seshego police station.”
At the time of publication a police report on the incident was pending.
In the Polokwane city centre, taxis, buses were operating normally, with shops having opened and those commuting to work doing so undisturbed, a Daily Maverick reporter on the ground reported, adding that “it is business as usual”. A heavy police presence and taxi operators manning the streets to ensure law and order were the only things out of the ordinary.
It was a slightly different sight in EFF leader Julius Malema’s hometown, Seshego, which is also one of the party’s strongholds as it currently has eight wards. At about 8am, a Daily Maverick reporter visited Luthuli Park, just 1km from Malema’s home. “A group of EFF supporters have barricaded the road at Luthuli Park, an extension of Seshego, with burning tyres, stones and other objects.
“Police have just arrived, a police chopper is hovering, monitoring the situation. We can see the police cocking their guns, it seems they are ready to fire rubber bullets.”
Watch this video clip on the ground in Polokwane at about 8am, by Rudzane Tshivhase
The flagship rally for the EFF took place in Pretoria, with a march of about 3000 people to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Malema led the the protest with, among others, Duduzile Zuma, daughter of former president Jacob Zuma, and Carl Niehaus, who was axed by the ANC and has found a new home in the Radical Economic Transformation Movement.
The JSE opened for trade as usual at 9am and was slightly lower at mid-morning, but had turned positive in afternoon trade – as protesters gathered outside the exchange in Sandton. Company announcements on its SENS feed were being issued as on any other trading day – in other words, South Africa’s financial heart was not shut down.
Traffic flows into the Sandton CBD were quiet, which was probably a function of Monday being a school holiday and many people taking a long weekend because of the Tuesday Human Rights Day holiday. But businesses around Sandton such as petrol stations and grocery stores were operating.
A crowd of about 200 people marched from Alex to the JSE building in Sandton.
According to its website, scheduled flights were arriving and departing at OR Tambo International Airport. A heavy police contingent remained on standby to guard the national keypoint in anticipation of the shutdown.
In Johannesburg, various roads were clear of protest action with traffic proceeding on Monday morning. Some shops in the CBD remained closed while the high court moved cases to virtual platforms. In Sandton, most businesses were operating, but the streets were mostly quieter than during a normal day of work. On Marlboro Drive, about 15 EFF supporters were peacefully marching alongside two police vehicles. A Randburg resident remarked: “Nothing is shut down.”
The situation in several parts of Soweto was also calm, with major roads operating optimally. However, a few incidents were reported to law enforcement officials in the early hours.
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Police Minister Bheki Cele was in Soweto assessing the damage to the house of Soweto Parliament leader Nhlanhla Lux, which had allegedly been bombed early in the morning. A few neighbouring houses were also damaged during the “bomb attack”.
Cele said no one was injured during the attack but a young girl required counselling. Lux was not at the home when the attack took place, having announced early on that he would be out and about to ensure there was no shutdown.
Bus operator Putco announced it had temporarily suspended some of its operations due to intimidation.
“Buses were stoned and damaged in the Braamfischer area, passengers were forced to flee and the bus was abandoned. In Eldorado Park, staff buses couldn’t access the Vaal areas for picking up drivers [and] as a result buses from Nancefield depot couldn’t operate. A bus belonging to a patch subcontractor was stoned by protesters in the same area. In Soshanguve, a bus was hijacked, the female driver was pushed out of the bus and it was used to block a road in Dennilton, but police quickly recovered it and it was taken back to the local depot,” Putco said.
Police and law enforcement as well as private security were out in force in the Durban CBD, prepared for any eventuality to avoid a repeat of the July 2021 unrest that turned violent.
The city centre was quiet, but some food outlets were open, including along the route of the planned EFF march along West Street later on Monday. Daily Maverick reporters said about 200 supporters were present. Most of the foreign-owned shops were closed, with only a few risking doing business. Some people took the opportunity to go to the beach and have an extended long weekend.
EFF members on the Inanda highway in Kwamashu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)Scores of police officers, their counterparts from the Durban Metro Police and security guards – some wearing plainclothes but communicating on walkie-talkies – waited for the marchers at every intersection. Some officers and private security personnel were in armoured vehicles on the front, on the side and at the back of the EFF march.
Before leading the march from the EFF’s KZN provincial office in the Berea area, EFF secretary-general Marshal Dlamini told the marchers that they must not be intimidated by the strong presence of the police and security guards: “Today we are going to take control of Durban. We will also be going to Phoenix after the march to see how the situation pans out there.”
Phoenix is the predominantly Indian township north of Durban which erupted into racial violence during the July 2021 unrest, resulting in the death of 33 Africans and three Indians.
In Chatsworth, south of Durban, there was protest action by EFF supporters on Sunday night, ahead of the planned shutdown, with reports of vehicles being stoned. However, the area was quiet Monday morning. Roads had been cleared and police officers were out in their numbers.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Concern and apprehension in KZN ahead of Monday’s ‘national shutdown’ attempt by the EFF”
The Cape Town city centre was quiet on Monday morning, with not a red beret in sight. As Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis previously laid out here, because Tuesday, 21 March is a public holiday, many people have taken Monday off to have their first long weekend of the year. Monday is also a special school holiday, since Tuesday is Human Rights Day.
At about 8.45am, Daily Maverick reporters in Cape Town noted a heavy police presence, particularly around the Keizersgracht area and Bree Street, but taxis and buses appeared to be running as normal. Delft, Nyanga and Cape Town International Airport were also quiet as of 9.45am. Daily Maverick reporters noted a heavy police presence at Borcherds Quarry.
On Friday, the Western Cape High Court granted an urgent interdict ordering the EFF and its supporters not to disrupt, harm or threaten people and businesses as part of the planned shutdown.
The application for an interdict was filed by the City of Cape Town and Western Cape premier Alan Winde last week, and applies to the province.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Red alert – DA, City of Cape Town seek interdicts against EFF’s shutdown amid ‘threats’ of violence”
Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said that while the City “fully recognises” the right to democratic protest, this did not extend to threatening the rights and freedoms of others.
Speaking to Daily Maverick reporters at about 10am on Monday, EFF Western Cape chairperson, Unathi Ntame said marchers would head to Cape Town CBD at 11am.
EFF Western Cape leader Unathi Ntame says they did not have to do much in Cape Town as the state decided to effectively shutdown the metro. They will now head to the CBD #NationalShutdown #EFFNationalShutdown pic.twitter.com/o0NfSRv4qw
— Veve (@LudidiVelani) March 20, 2023
No major incidents were reported in the Eastern Cape by mid-morning.
Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Retief Odendaal said protesters had managed to close two roads with burning tyres, but an attempt to close a major highway had been halted by the police. At 10am a protest started at the Boardwalk Mall. The police, neighbourhood watches and security firms were out in full force. Municipal services such as rubbish collection were uninterrupted.
The rand weakened on Monday in one sign of possible market jitters over the protests, even if they failed to achieve the EFF’s stated goal of a “national shutdown”.
“This constitutes a risk event for the country and could harm sentiment on South African markets if the outcome is bad,” ETM Analytics said in a commentary. Social unrest is a key risk factor for investors in South Africa, but it was hard to gauge the impact of any disruptions stemming from the protests on business on a day that was effectively treated as a public holiday by many South Africans.
There were no reports of disruptions directly linked to the protests at South Africa’s mines on Monday, union and industry sources said. Sibanye-Stillwater said there were some roads blocked at Mooinooi in North West near its platinum operations, but it said that was a weekly occurrence.
The currency weakened to 18.49/dlr in afternoon trade on Monday, about 0.25% weaker compared with its closing levels Friday. But on Saturday – which is quite rare – data shows that it had fallen at one point to 18.97/dlr, close to its historic low over 19/dlr that was reached almost three years ago during the economic meltdown triggered by the initial hard lockdowns to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. But market reports on Monday compared the currency’s current levels with its Friday closing levels, which is standard and suggests Saturday’s moves may have been a “rogue” trade exacerbated by low liquidity.
The rand does not have much going for it at the moment as the power crisis slashes prospects for economic growth and amid expectations that the US Federal Reserve will hike again this week by at least 25 basis points to contain inflation, despite recent turmoil in financial markets triggered by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.
Protesting against rolling blackouts
The shutdown comes days after the appointment of an electricity minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, tasked with reducing the severity and frequency of rolling blackouts and the overall electricity crisis.
On Sunday, Eskom announced that owing to an improvement in generation capacity, load shedding would remain suspended for the remainder of Sunday and resume at Stage 1 from 4pm, then raised to Stage 2 until Tuesday morning.
But the EFF immediately claimed the return to full power as a victory, attributing it to its call for a national shutdown. “One of the major successes of the National Shutdown, before it even began, is that it has drastically decreased the stages of load shedding. It is because of the National Shutdown that South Africa has moved from Stage 4 to Stage 1 over the past four days, and was even suspended yesterday,” said EFF national spokesperson Sinawo Tambo. The economy has come to a standstill because they too are tired of Ramaphosa’s lies. He and the ANC said it is business as usual yet businesses are closed, meaning workers and the people of South Africa refused to listen to the lies.” DM
This is a developing story and has been updated numerous times.