JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Thousands of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) protested outside the Johannesburg stock exchange on Tuesday in pursuit of working class votes for the radical leftist party ahead of municipal elections next year.
The EFF, led by firebrand Julius Malema, is looking to use the momentum built from student demonstrations last week to increase the pressure on President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC), the anti-apartheid party of Nelson Mandela.
Malema, a former ANC youth leader, says the ruling party under Zuma has allowed a black political elite to enrich themselves while most of the country’s wealth remains with the white minority, 20 years after the end of apartheid.
“Down with capitalism! Down with the racist JSE (Johannesburg stock exchange)!” Malema told a cheering crowd of supporters dressed in red party T-shirts and waving “capitalism sucks” banners.
“You bloody racists. It is the ANC who has spoiled you. Your days are numbered,” a finger-wagging Malema shouted at a group of white businessmen standing on a balcony outside the JSE.
Only around 10 percent of the JSE is owned by black South Africans, a statistic Malema cites as a prime example of the ANC’s failure to redistribute wealth concentrated in white hands during the apartheid era.
The EFF handed a list of demands to the JSE’s CEO, Nicky Newton-King, including that all listed companies be owned 51 percent by workers and that a national minimum wage of 4,500 rand ($330) per month be implemented immediately.
“Comrade Malema, thanks for making the effort to come. South Africa has taken notice,” Newton-King said to jeers from the crowd.
Tuesday’s EFF march, which also stopped at the central bank and chamber of mines, was the latest sign of anti-government dissent as South Africans vent frustration at high unemployment, stretched public services and political corruption.
Malema, whose anti-Western rhetoric has growing appeal among poor voters, has pledged to nationalize South Africa’s mines and land, raising fears of the kind of seizures of white-owned farms undertaken by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
“The land of South Africa was stolen and taken through genocide,” Malema said. “We must all have a slice of this cake.”
The EFF, formed in 2013, won 6 percent of the vote at the national election last year, gaining 25 seats out of 400 in parliament, while the ANC claimed 62 percent, down from 66 percent in 2009.
Malema expects the EFF to expand its support base at municipal elections next year where the ANC will be in a close race with the main opposition Democratic Alliance in important urban areas, including the economic hub Johannesburg.
Protests by students across South Africa pressured Zuma into scrapping plans to increase university fees next year, in what was seen as a symbolic victory for the post-apartheid “Born Free” generation.
Additional reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Mark Heinrich