by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE shutdown in South Africa will go down the annals of history as a luxury that afforded locals uninterrupted access to electricity and, simultaneously, a gloomy reminder of violence being a hallmark of anti-government protests in the increasingly unstable country.
It coincides with a month marking three years since a lockdown government imposed on the country after the COVID-19. That now is a distant memory but the problems afflicting South Africa have intensified.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a radical and militant economic emancipation movement, formed in the year 2013 after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) expelled some outspoken members of its youth league, organised the shutdown that largely brought the country to a halt.
Despite assurances by the country’s third largest party that protests would be violence-free, tempers flared and again the country degenerated into a shambles in the streets.
In the early hours of Monday morning, unknown individuals suspected to be members of the EFF, allegedly planted petrol bombs at the Soweto home of the outspoken activist, Nhlanhla “Lux” Dlamini.
There were no casualties but neighbouring homes suffered damage.
Dlamini blamed the EFF. Police are investigating a case of public violence and malicious damage to property after the explosion.
He and EFF leader, Julius Malema, are adversaries and Dlamini had been critical of the shutdown by the opposition party.
Lux (36) shot into prominence in 2021 when South Africa suffered its deadliest protests post-independence as over 300 people died and businesses were looted in the aftermath of the arrest of former president, Jacob Zuma. for contempt of court during his corruption travails.
During the anarchy, Dlamini led a resistance against the looting of some properties in Soweto, the iconic township west of Johannesburg, lauded for a prominent role in ending the gross apartheid system in the early 1990s.
This has earned Dlamini support among South Africa’s youth, at a time Malema (42) leads the party that mostly resonates with the youth in South Africa.
“We beat the EFF at their own game on the streets by defending Soweto brilliantly with the all law enforcement on our side,” Dlamini stated after the attack.
“So they bomb and (attempt to) kill my entire family because they lost,” the activist added.
This was one of a string of violent incidents that characterised the shutdown on Monday.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) on the day announced the arrest of 87 protestors across the country, for public violence related offences.
According to the country’s security cluster 41 people were arrested in Gauteng, 29 in the North West and 15 in Free State.
The EFF has made inroads into these provinces.
There were also arrests in other provinces such as Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga.
Law enforcement agencies revealed that officers confiscated at least 24 300 tyres strategically placed for acts of criminality.
Most were in the Western Cape, controlled by the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) which in the runup to the shutdown fell out with the EFF over the action.
Burning of tyres is synonymous with protest action in South Africa, from the days of apartheid.
Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, retained in the post amid outcry by the opposition in the recent cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramapahosa, monitored some hotspots in Gauteng on helicopter.
Gauteng is South Africa’s economic hub and the most populated province in the Southern African country of over 60 million people.
“Clearly, there is thuggery and criminality,” Cele said in Soweto.
Many businesses in the country closed in fear of a recurrence of the violence that rocked South Africa in 2021.
Most public operators halted services, apparently in fear of protests almost always going violent in South Africa.
EFF welcomed this as solidarity with the shutdown.
“The shutdown was an expression of the frustrations of our people against high levels of crime, gender-based violence, unemployment, load shedding and the lack of service delivery that defines the lives of the poor in South Africa,” EFF stated.
Malema led protesters into a sit-in outside the official home of Ramaphosa and a march to the Union Buildings, both in the capital, Pretoria.
Ramaphosa’s fiercest critics, ex-government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi, former ruling party spokesperson Carl Niehuaus and Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, daughter of erstwhile president, Zuma were in the frontline.
“This is the most successful shutdown ever in the history of struggle in South Africa,” Malema told cheerful supporters.
Somewhat strangely, for the FIRST time in 2023, on Sunday, the beleaguered power utility, Eskom, did not implement load shedding.
Load shedding was again suspended on Monday, the shutdown day.
This was seen as a ploy by Ramaphosa’s government to blunt the anger of citizens ahead of and during the shutdown.
Malema said, “Yet another testament to the success of the national shutdown is that Eskom was able to suspend load shedding due to lower than anticipated demand for electricity.”
Protest action is forecast to continue as South Africa heads for elections in 2024.
Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is divided and his daunting mission to clear his name in a multimillion-Rand corruption scandal makes him a liability to the organisation that has been in power since the demise of apartheid in 1994.
“People are tired of the ruling party. If they win next year, they will be extremely lucky or cunning as always,” political analyst Sifiso Mkhize, told CAJ News Africa.
Ramaphosa remained defiant amid calls for him to quit, his sentiments coinciding with South Africa marking 100 years of the ANC adopting the country’s first bill of rights.
“A century after the first bill of rights was adopted in this country, every person in South Africa can now enjoy these freedoms. As this government, we will not allow anyone or any group to take these freedoms away from them,” Ramaphosa said.
– CAJ News