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The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the South African Trade Union Federation (Saftu) have described the nationwide shutdown as a success as it managed to halt economic activities around the country. Addressing the protesters in Tshwane earlier today, the president of the EFF said that the shutdown managed to bring the economy to a standstill. “The biggest consumers of electricity are closed. Today there are no big malls. there is no small mall. There are no shops or factories, no school. All of them are closed. In Richards Bay, there was no single truck that was seen, no single train was seen. Today is a shutdown,” said Julius Malema.

In all the three cities that Elitsha reporters were reporting from it was relatively quiet. The school calendar, however, which was gazetted by the minister a full year ago indicates that 20 March is a special school holiday for all public schools.

Meanwhile the secretary for labour of the Pan African Congress, Owen Khathazile who was part of the Cape Town march said that the unity between the organisations that participated was a success and that the shutdown has exposed that loadshedding is a man-made problem. “This day has exposed that loadshedding is a deliberate problem that is pushed by those in power and the ANC as they want to bring in European companies to come and benefit from South Africa. We see this day as the first victory for the unity of the oppressed,” he said.

In Cape Town

About 300 protesters led by the EFF chairperson, Veronica Mente, marched to parliament. Like all other parts of the country, the shutdown in Cape Town was marked by a heavy police presence. There were roadblocks on major roads in Cape Town with police searching cars. Abeedah Adams, the provincial secretary of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) told Elitsha that the response of the security cluster to the shutdown serves as a clear indication of the priorities of the ruling party. “You tell us that you don’t have money and we are subjected to years and years of austerity budget yet they have resources to place the police here. Everyday when I have to take a bus to work, it’s not safe for us especially with winter coming up as women. So the state is not interested in protecting the people but are interested in protecting the property and the privileges of the rich. They do not care about the working class and the poor in South Africa,” she said.

The two main demands of the protest is an end to loadshedding and for President Ramaphosa to step down. Photo by Asive Mabula.

“We are being played here. The ANC cabinet took a decision to postpone loadshedding for this weekend so as to buy support for them and to undermine the shutdown. But they will continue to implement loadshedding after the protest. But it also gave us confidence that we can defeat this government,” said Khathazile.

EFF chairperson in the Western Cape, Unathi Ntame said they are not happy with the overzealous policing of the shutdown in that officers were restricting the movement of their members in the CBD, one of whom was arrested for pamphleteering.

In East London

Early in the morning bout 1,000 shutdown protesters were occupying Oxford street singing freedom songs surrounded by a large contingent of police vehicles and dozens of police on foot. Most businesses and shops were closed and neither had the taxi rank vendors come to work. Those few businesses like furniture shops that did open were shouted at by marchers to close. The protesters proceeded down Oxford, Buffalo and Fleet streets in the city centre, sitting down for extended occupations of busy intersections to block the traffic.

According to Sibongile Aloni, the deputy regional chairperson of the EFF, the shutdown that started at midnight will proceed until tonight and their forces will camp somewhere near the airport. Most of the protest actions were not planned well in advance as leaders appeared to spontaneously decide what to do next or which street to go to.

The protesters in East London tried to closed the airport. Photo by Anele Mbi

Thembi Tonze, an EFF member from Nkandla informal settlement felt that it was correct for EFF not to disclose its programme because of the police presence. She said, “Many people in the location are not part of the protest since they feared police and the talk about violence.”

Many protesters complained about the police presence since the same force is not mustered in fighting crime. Bulumko Kapu, an organiser of the Labour Community Media Forum in East London, which gave unconditional support to the shutdown, noted that there was little participation by workers in the march. He said it is unfortunate that unions and left groups are divided on many issues and didn’t support the shutdown despite the harsh realities faced by the working class. “It is not about whether one likes EFF or not but the building of self-activity and confidence of the masses for the struggles ahead,” he said.

In Johannesburg and Pretoria

Although there were no visible burning tyres on the streets, traffic was disrupted as marchers clashed with motorists who wanted to use the same roads. “We are here monitoring the situation and with the help of the police and the traffic officials, I think we will be able to contain the situation and restore calmness,” said Thuso Lebuso, operations manager of Alexandra Taxi Association. 

On their way to Sandton, protesters were joined by the EFF’s deputy president, Floyd Shivambu. He addressed them at Sandton’s Mandela Square. He called the shutdown a success and took a swipe at Fikile Mbalula, secretary general of the ANC for “day dreaming” when he tweeted that the shutdown would not achieve anything. “It is not a mistake fighters that we are calling for Ramaphosa to step down. He told Americans and Europeans that he is going to close coal power stations. Now they realise you can’t have power without coal power stations. Also there can be no freedom without economic freedom. He must go so that next year we have the commander-in-chief, Julius Sello Malema as the president,” he said to thunderous applause of the party’s supporters.

The protesters from Alexandra township making their way to Sandton. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

In Pretoria, protesters led by the party’s president, Julius Malema, marched to Sefako Makgatho presidential guest house, an official residence of the country’s president. Like his deputy, he hailed the shutdown as a success and in defiance of their doomsayers. He said there was no looting, businesses were closed, the economy was crippled and that their members had conducted themselves accordingly. EFF members who had been arrested, he said, will be released and they’ll go to court to challenge those who confiscated their tyres. The liberation of this country will be achieved, he declared, by burning tyres and barricading the streets. 

Malema also thanked organisations that supported the shutdown, a signal of a time that all left leanings organisations join hands and work together. “This is just the beginning. Much more is coming. Be ready South Africa. Ramaphosa will fall,” he said.