Johannesburg - Weak police crowd control measures were again exposed on Tuesday when throngs of Economic Freedom Fighters – led by their commander-in-chief, Julius Malema – stormed the Gauteng legislature.
Police had to resort to using force.
The EFF were protesting against the expulsion of their legislature members (MPLs) earlier this month for wearing their red overalls and domestic workers’ attire.
They also used the protest to highlight their annoyance with the expulsion of their MPs in Cape Town for Malema’s “unparliamentary” conduct, after he refused to withdraw his statements accusing the ANC-led government of being liable for the killing of mineworkers in Marikana, North West.
As Malema and dozens of his party’s members staged a sit-in at the legislature, the police – including those from the Tactical Response Team and public order police – fought running battles with hundreds of red-clad members outside, who also threatened to force their way in.
In a day of pandemonium, the rattling sound of gunshots echoed through the legislature precinct as the police fired volleys of stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas as they battled to disperse the hundreds of unruly EFF supporters, who threatened to break into the building and join Malema and several other members, including MPLs who had already stormed the building.
Malema had, following a decision by the Speaker of the legislature, Ntombi Mekgwe to expel the EFF MPLs on July 1, announced his intention to lead his members to march against the ruling party.
He lived up to his promise on Tuesday.
Malema and the MPLs broke through a human chain of police officers guarding the legislature entrance in Rissik Street, before they stormed through the piazza into the building at noon.
They marched through the first floor of the building leading to the entrance to the chamber. But the legislature’s security were quick to lock all the entrances to avoid proceedings being disrupted.
Malema then led the EFF supporters in staging a sit-in that lasted late into the evening.
This happened as various Gauteng MECs were tabling their budget votes. At one stage, the EFF members helped themselves to the food meant for the MPLs and people observing proceedings from the public gallery.
The chaotic scenes, which also disrupted traffic in the CBD, started from as early as 9am when EFF supporters descended on Braamfontein before their protest march.
They toyi-toyied around the intersection of Rissik and Smit streets – one of the major arteries of Joburg’s Park Station transport hub, comprising the Gautrain station, the city’s Bus Rapid Transit system and taxi ranks, among others.
President Jacob Zuma, National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise and Mekgwe were the targets of their anger and caricatures. Some hoisted a mock mannequin of Zuma wearing a disposable nappy, while others flashed placards denouncing the government.
“The ANC government killed mineworkers in Marikana”, one placard read.
Others placards read: “Thandi ‘Lady Gaga’ Modise, stop killing innocent animals. Please destroy e-tolls and Nkandla”; “Parliament is not a fashion parade”; “Legislature is about ideologies and not expensive clothes”.
Chants of “Juju! Juju!” signalled the arrival of Malema as he disembarked from a sleek, grey Mercedes- Benz S-Class. Dozens of police officers, some on horseback, escorted EFF supporters to the legislature.
Once there, they were met by dozens of police who had formed a human chain at the entrance. Malema and scores of his members then broke through the chain before forcing open the door and going inside to stage their sit-in.
Malema, who earlier told the police he and his members were ready to die, was forced out by stun grenades at about 6pm. By 7pm, only police were seen guarding the building.
“They had a problem with Asijiki (the logos) on their overalls. Now, our members have arrived with the plain overalls, Mekgwe must allow them in. We are not going anywhere,” Malema insisted.