South Africa’s left-wing opposition on Monday (March 20) held strikes and rallies amid tight security to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa over his handling of the country’s economic and energy crisis.
Thousands of protesters gathered in a square in the capital Pretoria as they prepared to march to the Union Buildings, the seat of government, where police and troops were patrolling.
Thousands more gathered in other parts of the country, according to images from local media.
Police said 87 protesters were arrested overnight for violent crimes.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the country’s third-largest party, has called for a “national shutdown” of strikes and protests, stoking fears of a repeat of the unrest that ended deadly two years ago.
A huge white fabric poster with the words “Ramaphosa Must Go” in red hung on a fence in a churchyard in Pretoria.
“It is clear that this government is failing,” said Carl Niehaus, a former representative of the African National Congress who mainly joined EFF supporters at the rally.
“The damage done by the Ramaphosa government is so terrible that we can no longer bear it. he has to go now,” he told AFP.
Trade unionist Trevor Shaku was among the protesters calling for the resignation of the ANC government.
“The decision to demand Ramaphosa’s resignation must be extended to the entire ANC in the governing Congress, because it is clear that he has mismanaged this country,” he said.
Authorities said they were on high alert to maintain security and around 3,500 soldiers were ready to assist police.
“We expect these people to leave peacefully, as long as they leave peacefully we have no reason to disturb them,” Police Minister Becky Seeley told reporters in Johannesburg.
He added that private security firms are also helping the police.
Most shops across the country have closed their doors as a precaution and a car dealership in Pretoria has removed all vehicles from its window.
The party is calling on Ramaphosa to resign over his handling of the economy, chronic power shortages and high unemployment.
The 70-year-old president hit back, accusing the EFF of exploiting South Africa’s troubles to gain momentum ahead of next year’s general election.
For the first time since January 2, the country escaped planned power outages on Sunday – and most of Monday – which the EFF said was due to pressure from the strike call.
In Pretoria, EFF member Gift Boquopane, 42, joined the protest with his wife and children.
He carried a sign that read “Down with the Charges,” a reference to the highly unpopular power outages.
The power shortage has greatly increased discontent in a country suffering from high unemployment and rising inflation. In the last three months of 2022, economic growth has fallen below pre-pandemic levels.