South Africa’s leftwing opposition launched strikes and rallies under heavy security on Monday (Mar. 20) in a bid to force out President Cyril Ramaphosa over his handling of the country’s economy and crippling energy crisis.
Several thousand protesters gathered at a square in the capital Pretoria preparing to march to the Union Buildings, the seat of government, where police and troops were on patrol.
Thousands of others gathered in other parts of the country, according to footage on local media.
Eighty-seven protestors were arrested for violence-related offences overnight, according to the police.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the country’s third-largest party, has called for a “national shutdown” of walkouts and protests, sparking fears of a repeat of unrest that turned deadly two years ago.
In Pretoria’s Church Square, a huge poster made from white fabric, with “Ramaphosa must go” written in red paint, was tied to a fence.
“Clearly this government is failing,” said Carl Niehaus, a former official of the ruling ANC who joined the mainly EFF supporters for the rally.
“The damage that the Ramaphosa government is causing is so terrible that we cannot tolerate it any longer. They must go now,” he told AFP.
Trade unionist Trevor Shaku was among the protesters calling on the ANC government to go.
“The decision to demand the resignation of Ramaphosa must be expanded to include the entire African National Congress in Congress in government because clearly it has mismanaged this country,” he said.
A Reuters TV crew saw protesters shouting and waving banners saying “Ankole must go”, referring to Ramaphosa’s love for the Ankole cattle breed.
In the central Woodstock area of Cape Town, most of the shops and banks were operating normally, however, there was a notable increase in security personnel along the thoroughfare.
In the commercial hub of Johannesburg, many shops were shuttered and businesses closed in anticipation of possible looting.
Retailers such as Shoprite only had only one door open for customers and their metal gate shutters were partially pulled down.
South African security forces said on Monday that 87 people had been arrested in the last 12 hours over public violence ahead of planned protests.
A video seen by Reuters showed police firing stun grenades and teargas at a small crowd of protesters on Sunday night in Johannesburg’s central business district.
Of the eighty-seven arrests, 41 were in Gauteng, the province which includes the capital Pretoria and the main city Johannesburg, 29 in were in North West province, and 15 in Free State, National intelligence body NatJOINTS said in a statement, adding that there had also been arrests in other provinces such as Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.
Parliament said in a statement on Sunday that the South African military would deploy 3,474 troops for a month until April 17 to prevent and combat crime in cooperation with the police.
“Law enforcement officers are on high alert and will continue to prevent and combat any acts of criminality,” NatJOINTS said.