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South African government deploys 3,500 soldiers ahead of National Shutdown protest

South African government deploys 3,500 soldiers ahead of National Shutdown protest

South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters Party have called for a National Shutdown today, 20 March 2023, to demand the end of electricity load-shedding and the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa. The party is asking all business and industrial activity to stop for the day, and for all workers and students to stay at home.

In addition, there will be marches in major cities but the locations are deliberately being kept a secret by the Economic Freedom Fighters (“EFF”).

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South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) will be joining in, although other unions are steering clear. The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the Land Party are allegedly also participating, but this should add negligible numbers. There appears to be some degree of buy-in from student unions.

It is no exaggeration to say that the party has gone all out to advertise the shutdown. Street posters have been put up in all major cities, which can be an expensive business. EFF-branded pickup trucks have also been witnessed cruising the streets with loudhailers, warning businesses to shut down on Monday, 20 March or face looting.

There is a reasonable expectation that the shutdown may be accompanied by some degree of disorder. Party leaders, who are masters of doublespeak as always, have contributed to this perception through the aforementioned instructions to local businesses to shut down or potentially be looted.

In parts of the country badly affected by the July 2021 riots, the atmosphere is particularly tense. Residents of small towns on the outskirts of Durban told Daily Maverick this week that communities were braced for a repeat of the July 2021 carnage which saw hundreds left dead. Scars still run very deep in these areas, with an apparently widespread perception that neither the media nor authorities properly grasped the scale of the chaos and violence in KwaZulu-Natal that accompanied the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma.

It is important to note, though, that at this stage fears of violence are just that: fears.  There is no credible information at this point to suggest that a deliberate campaign of violence is planned — and stoking panic would be massively irresponsible given the potential for deathly vigilantism, as happened in the July 2021 riots.

In a statement on Tuesday, the EFF said that the idea that the shutdown would be characterised by violence was a “fallacy” premised on “the racist presumption that African people have no capacity to express themselves in a peaceful manner.”

It seems many people are torn between being sick of load shedding and sick of EFF stunts: on social media, where the EFF usually enjoys disproportionate support compared to their real-life polling figures, there has been a surprising degree of pushback to the idea.

Read the full article: How the EFF’s planned shutdown might play out, Daily Maverick, 15 March 2023

The EFF in its 10 years of existence has held several marches, but today’s one is expected to be different.  This is evident in how police and the South African National Defence Force (“SANDF”) have responded to the looming National Shutdown.

During an address to party members in Soweto on Friday, EFF’s leader Julius Malema said: “All the main roads, M1, M2 all of those roads… when they wake up, every bridge must be having a white banner that says President Cyril Ramaphosa must go because those are our bridges.”

Meanwhile, Malema is insisting theirs is a peaceful protest but he’s called on members to retaliate if provoked.

Read the full article: D-Day Looms for EFF National Shutdown, Eye Witness News, 19 March 2023

On Friday afternoon, Lieutenant-General Tebello Mosikili, the chairperson of the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) declared that it was all systems go and that they were prepared for what the EFF has called a National Shutdown.  “This is our update to the country at large, that there will be no national shutdown.  We know of a planned protest. To say there will be a national shutdown is misleading.”

Over the weekend various police units were to be deployed across Gauteng. Security will also be heightened at ports of entry, such as airports. But besides the police and army who will be ready in support, the private security sector and Community Policing Forum (“CPF”) members are to act as eyes and ears on the ground.  The CPF is a partnership between the South African Police Service (“SAPS”) and the community supposedly to solve problems of crime, physical and social disorder, and neighbourhood decay.

Read the full article: There will be no national shutdown, says police general as law enforcement expected in full force, IOL, 18 March 2023

Ramaphosa has deployed 3,474 soldiers under the name ‘Operation Prosper’ ahead of the National Shutdown

Twitter users are reporting that the African Black Lawyers Foundation has brought an urgent court application to stop the deployment of any members of the SANDF and SAPS.   The urgent court application states:

“No member of the South African Police Services and South African National Defence Force may interfere with the rights of the peaceful protestors, by using live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and force against members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Civil Organisations and ordinary citizens who will be part of the planned protests and demonstrations.”

It seems that before the National Shutdown has even taken place it may have had some effect. Eskom or ESCOM, the Electricity Supply Commission, appears to have restored electricity supply.

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