Despite the best efforts of some political parties to bring South Africa to a standstill this week, the country at large showed that it was more interested in being productive than doing further damage to its ailing economy.

This is one of the few positives that emerged from this week’s planned “national shutdown” spearheaded by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and union federation Saftu.

While some businesses were undoubtedly disrupted by the protest action – particularly in the Pretoria CBD, which saw the largest gathering of EFF supporters – by and large, most regions in the country reported little in the way of incidents, and people were able to go about their business.

The Western Cape was one of the more prominent provinces where things were decidedly “business as usual”. The provincial government managed to secure court interdicts against any acts of criminality by the protestors, and used it as a basis to build up strong resistance against any attempts to do so.

According to Dean Le Grange, CEO of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the end result of the attempted shutdown was one of unexpected positivity.

“Here was another potential disaster, a ‘revolution’ aimed at bringing the country to its knees, delivering such a spectacular no-show that for those fearing the worst the day ended up feeling like a triumph,” he said.

“A triumph of ordinary South Africans just getting on with things, and not sweating the aimless rhetoric. A vote of confidence in society’s ability to see through the bluster, or just to shut it out.”

The chamber CEO said that while many anticipated a ‘red tide’ of EFF foot soldiers, this did not materialise to sweep away city centres like Johannesburg and Pretoria. Nor did it happen in any other place, he said.

“Instead, we saw the opposite – tiny groups of ten or less, toyi-toyiing largely unto themselves and sometimes outnumbered by police and journalists. Yes, there were scuffles, stone-throwing and intimidation. But the day ended with police and protestors shaking hands and heading off home,” he said.

Le Grange said that business and other South Africans haven’t discounted the legitimate concerns of the EFF and the protesters – which he said are shared concerns – but he said that “EFF-style disruptions” only serve to tear things down.

“The quickest way to keep the lights on and create jobs is to get business working,” he said.

Incident report

The protest action on the day was thankfully peaceful, but not without incident.

A post-protest report from the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) showed that over 550 people were arrested on the day for, amongst others, public violence, intimidation, damage to critical infrastructure, theft and attempted looting.

Of those arrested, Gauteng recorded the highest number of arrests with 149, the Northern Cape recorded the second highest number with 95 arrests, the Eastern Cape also saw 80 protestors arrested, followed by Free State with 64 arrests.

The group also noted that many attempts to sow wider chaos were thwarted, particularly with authorities confiscating tyres ostensibly meant for burning and blocking roads.

“The number of tyres that were confiscated throughout the country remains at 24,300. These were tyres that were strategically placed for acts of criminality,” the Natjoints said.

Following the arrest of the protesters, however, follow-up demonstrations have emerged, demanding their release.

“Law enforcement deployments will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety and security of everyone in the country,” the group said.

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