Johannesburg - Bricks and stones flew in the streets, and the thunder of gunfire from stun grenades echoed through the streets of the Joburg CBD – followed by hellish glows, smoke and hysterical screams from people dashing for cover.
This took place while the police were engaged in skirmishes during on Wednesday’s failed DA “march for jobs” to Beyers Naudé Square, around the corner from the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters.
The march was supposed to end at the square, but police stopped it before then and told them it was too dangerous to continue.
The chaotic scenes at noon reduced South Africa’s commercial capital to a war zone. Many businesses around the Luthuli House precinct were shut, roads were cordoned off and traffic was clogged for several hours.
With last-ditch court action by the ANC to stop the DA from marching having failed on Wednesday morning, the ruling party welcomed thousands of its members who had descended on Luthuli House from as early as the night before.
This was despite the Joburg metro police department having denied the party permission to do so, on the grounds that two opposing political parties could not be allowed to stage a protest on the same day.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said the gathering was inevitable as the DA had “contracted armed security guards, and procured helmets and protective shields”.
The DA, he added, had also booked facilities at Netcare Milpark Hospital.
This claim was, however, denied by the hospital’s chief executive, Anton Gillis.
Mthembu’s colleague, Keith Khoza, boldly replied: “ANC members don’t need permission to be visiting their head offices.”
Johannesburg High Court Judge Phineas Mojapelo, delivering his verdict on the ANC’s application for a protection order, said he was satisfied that both political parties were in agreement about the terms of the DA’s planned march.
Crucial to these terms was that the DA would stage its demonstration at Beyers Naudé Square, instead of Luthuli House.
This, Judge Mojapelo found, was a “responsible distance” of 100m from the ANC’s headquarters.
Despite earlier guarantees of a peaceful march by the leaders of both political parties, an aggressive and ominous mood pervaded the city centre.
A few among the thousands of ANC members openly brandished stones, bricks, sticks, knobkieries and sjamboks as they toyi-toyied, chanting anti-DA and anti-Helen Zille songs and slogans.
At the Westgate transport hub, thousands of DA members also chanted anti-President Jacob Zuma and pro-Zille songs as they alighted from their buses. “We are ready for action,” they sang and toyi-toyed.
Back at Luthuli House, senior ANC leaders such as deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and Gauteng secretary David Makhura led their members in denouncing the DA.
“Are you afraid of them?” the leaders asked, to which the crowd responded en masse: “We are not afraid of them! We want them!”
The ANC’s gathering appeared to degenerate into a political rally.
The ANC even seized the moment to parade two DA councillors from Ekurhuleni who the party claimed had defected to its ranks.
“I just want to thank madam Zille for organising such a big rally for the ANC,” Mkhize said, also slating the DA for criticising the ANC’s election manifesto while the official opposition did not yet have its own.
At about midday, there was palpable tension as the DA marchers started approaching Beyers Naudé Square, where throngs of ANC members had gathered.
Dozens of men dressed in ANC colours, and who were carrying bricks, were seen charging towards the DA supporters in Rissik Street, just as Zille was to address them.
This forced those wearing the blue colours of the DA to retreat, seemingly on the advice of the police.
But all hell broke loose around the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court when a group wearing ANC colours threw bricks at the marchers. As groups of ANC supporters dispersed, police blocked off the streets with Nyala armoured vehicles.
Another group, also dressed in ANC colours, hurled petrol bombs at police at the corner of Miriam Makeba and Fox streets. The police then fired stun grenades.
Police spokeswoman Katlego Mogale said: “Our members were stoned and petrol-bombed.”
She added that four people had been arrested.
Various ANC leaders were nevertheless unanimous in declaring that their members were well behaved.
Meanwhile, DA spokesman Mmusi Maimane labelled the ANC “losers” following the march.
When the dust settled, after the many buses that had transported the supporters into the CBD had driven off, torn DA posters lay strewn along streets surrounding Luthuli House.
And among the many ice lolly sachets, mealie cobs and other rubbish strewn around lay beer bottles filled with sand and petrol. – Additional reporting by Brendan Roane, Tshidi Moeti and Mpho Mphelo