Pretoria - Despite many describing the national shutdown on Monday as a success, more than 500 people were arrested for various criminal activities.
The day, organised by the EFF and joined by other formations, including the PAC, APC, Land Party, ATM, Areta and Saftu, was led by the Red Berets.
Demonstrations were held in several cities, with thousands calling for President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down and for an end to load shedding.
Although there was minimal violence in some parts of the country, especially in the Pretoria CBD, the economy took a knock, with about 90% of businesses closing, some for fear that their shops would be looted. In some areas, it was business as usual, while others were ghost towns.
The protesters accused Ramaphosa of failing to govern the country and failing to avert the energy crisis, among other issues such as unemployment.
Independent political analyst Dr Metji Makgoba said the shutdown had made an impact but it was unlikely that Ramaphosa would resign.
Speaking to Pretoria News, Makgoba said: “Ramaphosa is not in a position to resign. Resigning now may mean that he is going to jail for the Phala Phala saga. The stakes are high, and his political survival depends on remaining in office, using his privileges and powers to cover his tracks.”
He said the shutdown was a success as it encouraged the government to address the economic crisis directly created by power cuts and the structural problems marginalising the poor.
Ramaphosa’s deployment of the army onto the streets, with the police and other law enforcement agencies, drew heavy criticism.
“The ANC has practically used state power and resources to settle its political differences with the EFF. The protests have partly demonstrated that the state does not see the current crisis as urgent,” Makgoba said.
University of Venda research professor Takalani Mashau said the economy had suffered a great deal because businesses closed their doors for fear of looting.
“Many businesses closed their stores because they couldn’t afford to be looted. But the protests did not have any big impact because they were calling for the president to resign, and that has not happened. They partially won the call for load shedding to end, but it was only suspended because there was not a lot of demand.”
EFF president Julius Malema, who was in Pretoria flanked by ATM leader Vuyo Zungula and Areta national chairperson Carl Niehaus, marched with the red army from Church Square to the Sefako Makgatho presidential guest house at the Union Buildings.
Speaking to the media outside the guest house, Malema said he was satisfied with the shutdown because it was peaceful.
“The shutdown was a success. There was no looting, no burning of public property. Everything went smoothly (and) according to plan, against the doomsayers who wanted to associate the EFF with looting.”
In a statement, the EFF added: “Today was only the beginning. Let us all continue to intensify the calls for the immediate resignation of Cyril Ramaphosa on the picket lines, in the business sector and in governance. It is our duty to defend our nation from criminality and incompetence.”
Zungula echoed Malema, saying the shutdown was a “resounding success”. “There was no violence, no looting, no anarchy. The people took a stand and expressed their frustration on the state of the country,” he said.
Niehaus said it was unnecessary for the government to deploy the army against “its own people”.
ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri said South Africans did not heed the EFF’s calls to hit the streets. “The ANC expresses its gratitude to all South Africans who did not join the extremist and regressive so-called shutdown. In South Africa, there is no place or tolerance for vigilantism and forceful removal of an incumbent government,” she said.
ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula took to social media, describing the protest as a failure. “When the CIC (Malema) calls for a shutdown, South Africa will not respond. South Africa showed him a big no.”
About 550 people were arrested as a result of the protests for public violence, intimidation, damage to critical infrastructure, theft and attempted looting, said police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe.