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South African marches demand Ramaphosa’s resignation

Protests have erupted in South African cities against the ANC government, over unemployment and severe power cuts.

March 21, 2023
By Tim Cocks and Anait Miridzhanian
21 March 2023

Thousands of protesters have marched through South Africa’s cities, 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.

More than 550 protesters had been arrested since Sunday night on such charges as public violence, intimidation, damage to critical infrastructure and theft, the national intelligence body said in a statement.

South Africans are angry at the failure of the governing African National Congress to deliver services and create jobs. With a third of South Africans out of work, analysts expect the ANC 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 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, leading many businesses to close and workers staying away for lack of transport.

In central Sandton, the financial hub and one of the wealthiest districts in Africa, many EFF protesters 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.

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.

The South African military will deploy around 3,500 troops for a month until April 17 to prevent and battle crime in cooperation with the police, parliament said on Sunday.

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