by Ambra Visentin

Is there a revolution in South Africa? Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a populist party on the left of the political spectrum, called for a “national shutdown” on Monday, a protest in which shops would close and factories would stop production. Red T-shirts, Che Guevara caps and military jackets were common in Cape Town. In a festive atmosphere, men and women danced and sang, holding up placards against President Cyril Ramaphosa: ‘Ramaphosa Down’ and ‘No more Loadshedding’. The latter is the name given by the state-owned company Eskom to the measure taken to prevent the collapse of the electricity grid, which involves intermittent interruptions in the supply of electricity. Power stations can no longer meet demand. Although the energy crisis has been going on for more than 15 years, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has failed to bring it under control.

The EFF, which won a good ten per cent of the vote in the last election, is now calling for the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is embroiled in a scandal. Malema’s call for protests has raised the spectre of the July 2021 riots, when thousands of people looted and rioted in two provinces. This is the beginning of a revolution,’ Malema said on the eve of the day of action, ‘and no one can stop it. The government has therefore put the police and army on alert, mobilising reservists and sending a total of 3,400 soldiers to strategic points around the country. On the eve of the protest, more than 24,000 car tyres were also confiscated, which the ‘freedom fighters’ had left by the roadside with the intention of setting them on fire on Monday.

African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Fikile Mbalula announced that Malema would be held personally responsible for violence and damage. In reality, Monday’s ‘revolution’ took place only in individual cities such as Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, with limited violence. It was no coincidence that the protest was scheduled for a day on which many South Africans had already taken a holiday, as it was a ‘bridge day’ for a long weekend between Sunday and an important public holiday in the South African calendar – ‘Human Rights Day’, which commemorates the victims of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. Police brutally suppressed protests against the apartheid government and shot 69 people, many in the back.

Nevertheless, the media impact of the action made it a success. Several television stations had been talking about the protest for days, and on Monday they broadcast live from all the country’s provinces. For the ruling ANC, Malema is the most feared opposition politician. As head of the ANC Youth League, he once had the reputation of being an enfant terrible. The action is therefore linked to next year’s elections, in which polls suggest the ANC could lose its outright majority for the first time in three decades and need a coalition partner. The ruling party is divided over whether the ANC should form a coalition with the EFF or with one of the economically liberal opposition parties. Since his expulsion from the ANC, Malema is believed to be counting on a split in the party to ally the EFF with the ANC’s radical left wing and become president himself.

Cover image: Julius Malema, © Goodread Bio on Flickr