JOHANNESBURG, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Police lined the streets of South Africa’s commercial capital on Thursday with hundreds of youths set to march to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Chamber of Mines demanding big changes to an economy still controlled by the white minority.
Led by African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader Julius Malema, the marchers want President Jacob Zuma’s government to do more to tackle the chronic unemployment blighting the continent’s biggest economy.
Their proposed solutions include nationalisation of the mines in the world’s biggest platinum producer, and the seizure of white-owned farms — an echo of the disastrous economic policies of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
“We are here because the youth is marginalised by unemployment,” said 29-year-old Given Valashiya, a Youth League official in Johannesburg.
“Unemployment is high, so it is important to nationalise the means of production in South Africa as well as expropriate the land. We want to remind our president about these issues.”
About 25 percent of the population is without work. A study by the South African Institute of Race Relations said 50 percent of youth lack jobs, with half of 25-to-34-year-olds having little chance of ever finding them.
Some businesses around the Chamber of Mines in downtown Johannesburg and the stock exchange in the upmarket Sandton financial district advised employees to stay home and tightened security in case the protest turns violent.
By 0930 GMT the march had not yet started, with no explanation for the delay.
Malema rose to prominence when he campaigned for Zuma’s election in 2007 but he has since fallen out of favour with South Africa’s leader, whose government has ignored his radical calls for mine nationalisation and farm seizures.
Critics argue that he is using the march to divert attention from an ANC disciplinary hearing that could see him expelled from the party.
The growing gap between South Africa’s haves and have-nots has created political space for Malema, whose fearless challenges to everybody from Zuma to “white capitalists” has endeared him to the millions of blacks still living in poverty — 17 years after the end of white-minority rule. (Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Ed Cropley and Mark Heinrich)