The South African government’s security cluster says that there will be no national shutdown on Monday (20 March) and that its forces are preparing for a simple protest.
Despite the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) attempts to rally South Africans at large to its cause – and various safety and security authorities rising to meet the challenge – businesses will remain open and economic activities will continue.
According to City Press and The Sunday Times, the army, crime intelligence, police forces, and private security companies are joining together to counter any illegal activity during the planned action.
Businesses are taking extra precautions but say they will remain open.
Meanwhile, schools will be closed due to a special school holiday that was already part of the school calendar – confirmed two years ago – making the EFF’s threats to shut down schools on the day meaningless.
The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Council (NTC) say that operations will continue as normal, and the country’s biggest union federation Cosatu is not attached to the protests.
Officials and authorities, including president Cyril Ramaphosa, said that violence and illegality during the protest would not be tolerated. The opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has been granted an interdict against the EFF over the protests, forcing the latter to stick to the rule of law while in the streets.
The national joint operational and intelligence structure (Natjoints) said plainly that there would be no national shutdown.
“There will be no national shutdown. We know of a planned protest. To say there will be a national shutdown is misleading,” said Natjoints chair deputy national police commissioner Tebello Mosikili.
“Everything from business to services will be fully functional and operational and accessible. We are not going to allow lawlessness and acts of criminality. Those who are found to be on the wrong side of the law will be dealt with accordingly.”
Who’s threatening who?
The EFF says it will continue, undeterred.
While the party has tried to pre-empt any blame for violence and illegality being pinned on its members by assuring its movement will be going out into the streets peacefully, no one is convinced.
Statements from EFF leader Julius Malema have been decidedly antagonistic, with police minister Bheki Cele calling it “war talk”.
Malema has characterised the response from the state towards the protest as “threats and intimidation” – but in the same breath, is calling for revolution, saying it cannot be stopped.
EFF members have reportedly been gathering tyres to burn and intimidating business owners, saying they should shut down or face looting. While not directly threatening to do the looting themselves, the EFF said it couldn’t be blamed if shops stay open and then get looted.
Despite attempts to distance the party from any potential illegality and violence, the protests are ultimately being spearheaded by the EFF, which has spent a lot of time marketing the day and rallying support for it. Union federation Saftu and other smaller political parties have signed on to join the protests.
Broadly and vaguely, the EFF wants Ramaphosa to resign and load shedding to end. It is also protesting anything else that could draw an emotional response from South Africans, such as high levels of unemployment, a rising cost of living, a lack of free tertiary education, corruption, gender-based violence and poor education.
However, while organising the protest, much of the plan is simply chaos. There is no formal course of action, nor a planned route or specific areas being targeted. There is no memorandum or list of demands being handed over to officials. The party just wants as many people in the streets as possible, protesting something, anything.
In contrast, officials have taken a far more defensive tone, saying that security forces will “saturate the roads and key points” to defend the country, painting the EFF and protestors as aggressors.
Natjoints said that while every citizen has a right to protest, the right must be exercised in a manner that does not infringe on the rights of non-protesters.
“Prohibiting people’s freedom of movement is a criminal offence. We will therefore enforce the law decisively in this regard.
“Section 17 of the Constitution of the country demands that Law Enforcement Agencies ensure that the right to picket and present petitions is not abused to the detriment of the stability of the country and the safety of the people.
“This freedom to picket does not extend to propaganda of war, incitement of imminent violence, and advocacy for hatred,” it said.
Police minister Bheki Cele has emphasised that the planned response to the protest is to keep the peace.
“The SAPS will be out in full force on the ground and in the air to enforce the law and ensure that the protest is peaceful. All the police have been recalled, they are here and we are working with other law enforcement. We are working with the taxi associations, NGOs and everybody.
“Those that will be here on the 20th will find us on the road. We will saturate the roads and key points,” he said.