Joburg under siege again

PLAYING WITH FIRE: Youth leaguers wield toy weapons in Beyers Naude Square early today as they protest against charges faced by their leaders.

PLAYING WITH FIRE: Youth leaguers wield toy weapons in Beyers Naude Square early today as they protest against charges faced by their leaders.

Published Sep 2, 2011


Baldwin Ndaba, Peter Fabricius and Shain Germaner

Razor-wire barricades, roads blockaded, massive traffic jams, scores of police in riot gear, water cannons and armoured carriers… this was the scene outside Luthuli House this morning as South Africa awaited the result of Julius Malema’s application to have the charges against him overturned.

The presiding officer, ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Derek Hanekom, was due to announce the verdict at 9am today, but at the time of going to press the decision had not been made public.

The verdict follows an application by ANC Youth League president Malema to have three charges against him scrapped.

The charges relate to:

l Malema’s saying in July that the youth league would set up a “command team” that would assist opposition parties in Botswana to unseat President Ian Khama. The league leadership also called Khama “a puppet of the West”.

l His comments during a local government election rally in Kimberley at which he labelled whites “criminals”, reportedly saying: “We must take the land without paying. They took ours without paying. Once we agree (that) they stole our land, we can agree (that) they are criminals and must be treated as such.”

l Comments he made in which he praised former president Thabo Mbeki, saying his departure from South Africa’s and the continent’s affairs had signalled an end to issues of the “African agenda”.

Regardless of what decision is taken on the three charges, Malema and his four co-accused – deputy president Ronald Lamola, secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, his deputy Kenetswe Mosenogi, and treasurer Pule Mabe – will still have to face a fourth charge related to storming a meeting chaired by ANC President Jacob Zuma in August. Zuma was reportedly unhappy with their action as he had instructed an ANC NEC member to tell Malema he had postponed their scheduled meeting. All five men allegedly ignored the order.

If Malema loses his bid to have the first three charges dropped, he will be expected to enter a plea on each of the counts against him.

The ANC’s prosecution team will also be expected to provide Malema with the list of witnesses and statements which are intended to be used against him.

Zuma could be called as a witness on the fourth count.

The ANC’s prosecution on Wednesday rejected the application and insisted that all charges should be retained.

Yesterday Zuma, speaking in Oslo during a state visit to Norway, said he had told security forces to take “very strong action” against those who trashed streets and assaulted people, as Malema supporters had done outside the ANC’s headquarters this week.

Zuma was asked to comment on the violent protests in which property was damaged and bystanders assaulted. He said he wanted to deal with the issue in general terms, as he had not witnessed the Luthuli House protests, on which the ANC had commented.

“We don’t accept it. I don’t think it augurs well with democracy,” he added.

“If we say people must have free association, free speech, in democracy, it does not give permission to those who feel they need to… trash the roads, break windows, beat up people. That’s not the exercise of democracy.

“I feel, and I’ve been saying to the security forces, that very strong action must be taken against those people, because they’re breaking the law… you can’t say you are exercising your right to protest or to strike, or whatever, by interfering with the rights of other citizens.

“This culture of not respecting authority is not good for any country. It cannot be good for any democracy.”

Police were taking no chances before the announcement this morning as security efforts around Luthuli House and Beyers Naude Square were redoubled.

Barbed-wire barricades on Pritchard, Simmonds, Sauer and President streets formed a protective blockade around the ANC headquarters from dawn, with platoons of police officers monitoring the increasingly riled crowd.

It was early-morning youth league action that had police wary, as hundreds of jogging protesters made their way into Sauer Street at around 4.30am, with police forced to remove the dissident youth as they set up their barriers.

At around 6.15am, a group of about 40 youth leaguers were seen attacking a passing metro bus, beating the sides with sticks and kicking it as it drove past the square.

Some anti-Zuma protesters arrived carrying placards reading: “The bad mistake we did in 2007 was to elect a rapist as ANC president.”

Others brandished realistic toy guns.

The ANC has deployed some of its private security agents to identify troublesome ANC members who have also joined the protest.

The agents, wearing ANC T-shirts, have merged with the groups of protesters in order to identify troublemakers with the intention of bringing disciplinary action against them once the Malema matter is concluded.

Shortly after 9am the crowds of Malema supporters gathered at Beyers Naude Square had swelled to around 1 000, and more were streaming in.

Dozens of inyalas and some water-cannon-equipped police vehicles were also placed in the streets by 8am, surrounding the 300-strong crowd outside the Gauteng Legislature. This is the biggest show of force seen this week.

The protesters were unwilling to speak to the media, after attacks on police and reporters on Tuesday caused a severe backlash in media portrayals of the league.

Speaking on behalf of the crowd was Golden Miles Bhudu, who brandished his usual activist chains and a sign reading: “Scrape (sic) all charges now.”

“We were told not to get closer (to Luthuli House) and we will adhere to that. We don’t want to be seen as hooligans,” he said.

But Tuesday’s looting, rioting and stone throwing left police geared for chaos, with officers saying a short prayer ceremony before beginning their patrols.

Just after 7.30am today the mob decided to move down Pritchard and President streets in a pincer movement on Luthuli House, but police were quick to disband the group, sending them back to Beyers Naude Square.

Traffic was continuously redirected around the CBD, with cars gridlocked in the city centre.

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