South Africa's EFF marches to demand Ramaphosa's resignation

By and
  • South Africans tired of power shortages, unemployment
  • EFF leader Malema calls for 'national shutdown'
  • Fury at Ramaphosa and ANC ahead of 2024 national polls

JOHANNESBURG, March 20 (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters marched through South Africa's cities on Monday, 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.

As of 10 p.m. (2000 GMT) 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 NatJOINTS said in a statement.

South Africans are angry at the failure of the governing African National Congress (ANC) 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 at Church Square 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 - a move which was successful to the extent that many businesses were closed and workers stayed away for lack of transport.

In central Sandton, the financial hub and one of the wealthiest districts in Africa, EFF protesters danced and sang outside its chrome and glass office buildings. Others put their litter in designated bins, heeding calls for a peaceful protest.

Many 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.

Reporting by and Anait Miridzhanian and Tim Cocks in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Johannesburg, Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Shafiek Tassiem in Pretoria; Editing by Alison Williams and Howard Goller

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Based in Johannesburg, Anait reports on breaking news across Sub-Saharan Africa. Previously she spent over two years in Gdansk, Poland, covering company news and translating Reuters articles from English into French. Prior to joining Reuters in 2020, Anait studied journalism at Sciences Po, Paris, and linguistics at Moscow State Linguistic University.