The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) announced that it would lead a national shutdown next Monday, March 20, and urged all South Africans to join the protest. The party is protesting against several issues in South Africa, with EFF leader Julius Malema focusing on two key points: President Cyril Ramaphosa and load shedding. The party’s demand for Ramaphosa’s resignation and the restoration of electricity supply to the country reflects its concerns over the ANC’s governance and corruption allegations. The party also blames the president and the ANC for the power crisis and problems at Eskom.
The EFF is rallying support for the shutdown over several other issues plaguing South Africa, including high unemployment, the high cost of living, gender-based violence, poor education, and lack of free tertiary education. Essentially, the party is highlighting any sticking point that negatively affects the country as part of its call to action.
While the EFF and other organisations participating in the protest have not released any specific locations where the protests will take place, they have warned businesses and companies across the country to shut down for the day. The party has warned shops and factories in various areas to shut down to avoid looting and has previously engaged with the taxi industry, indicating that public transport could also be affected on the day. The participation of student bodies could also affect universities and other places of learning.
Along with the EFF, other groups that have confirmed their participation in the shutdown include the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and smaller political parties like the United Democratic Movement (UDM). Notably, South Africa’s largest union federation Cosatu has not indicated its participation in the protest. However, the shutdown is expected to take place amid other strike action involving Cosatu-affiliated unions, which could confuse the issues at play. Public sector unions are currently striking over wage disputes across the country.
Official channels have not provided much information about the shutdown. The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) is preparing for the day, according to the SAPS, and has warned the EFF and other protesters that criminality and violence will not be tolerated. However, aside from the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape, other major metros have initiated no proactive response.
The City of Cape Town has responded to the shutdown by filing an application for an interdict against any attempts to participate in disruptive behaviour. The city also intends to be fully open for business in all respects. While the city is not trying to shut down the protest, it is trying to mitigate its impact on day-to-day life. Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said that everyone has the right to democratically protest in South Africa, but it is undemocratic and unlawful to threaten a shutdown of public life and for businesses to stay closed or face dire consequences.
According to the city, the interdict application in the Western Cape High Court aims to ensure that organizers and participants stay within the confines of the law. The interdict application is also a way of informing the EFF that the city will take legal action against them if they damage any public infrastructure. Hill-Lewis said that “we will ensure that Capetonians are able to go about their daily business on Monday. Should any damage to public infrastructure occur on Monday, the City will not hesitate to lay a civil claim against the EFF given their public threats made to date.”
On a provincial level, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said it is pursuing all legal options to ensure that the EFF respects the rule of law and refrains from destructive action.