South African military deployed to prevent planned national shutdown

Country’s radical opposition struggles to muster large numbers after calling for a day of protest

South African authorities deployed thousands of police and soldiers to quell a threatened “national shutdown” on Monday by the radical opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, with dozens of people arrested overnight.

President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the deployment of more than 3,400 members of the armed forces to protect key buildings, while businesses and roads largely remained open despite the call by the country’s third biggest party for nationwide protests to demand his removal from office.

Julius Malema, the EFF’s firebrand leader, told hundreds of protesters in the capital Pretoria on Monday that “this is the most successful shutdown in the history of South Africa”. But his party appeared to have struggled to muster numbers despite anger at the ruling African National Congress over a range of issues including intense rolling blackouts.

Although some shops were closed ahead of Tuesday’s public holiday and sporadic violence was reported, the heavy police presence appeared to have avoided a repeat of South Africa’s worst post-apartheid unrest two years ago, which resulted in hundreds of deaths.


Mr Malema’s party said its members had “registered their dissatisfaction against the incompetent government of Cyril Ramaphosa, in the face of intimidation and violence by police and military personnel”.

More than 350 people were killed in the looting and organised sabotage that followed the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court in 2021. Mr Ramaphosa’s government has admitted intelligence failures over the violence, which was quelled with a massive military deployment. Mr Zuma was eventually released.

Tebello Mosikili, South Africa’s deputy national police commissioner and chair of a joint security forces co-ordination committee, said last week that “there will be no national shutdown ... we learnt our lesson in 2021″.

“Everything from businesses to services will be fully functional... We’re not going to allow lawlessness and acts of criminality,” she added.

Civil servants were ordered to report to work as normal on Monday, while the operator of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg’s international airports said they would remain open.

Courts in Johannesburg and Cape Town have barred Mr Malema’s party from blocking roads or businesses, after legal action by the main opposition Democratic Alliance.

A blow against the shutdown plan came from South Africa’s minibus taxi industry, which is critical to transporting workers. The country’s national taxi council said its members would operate as normal on Monday.

However, some businesses signalled they could close for the day, such as Toyota’s car plant in Durban, the city that was the centre of the 2021 unrest.

Despite the planned shutdown, Mr Malema is viewed as a possible coalition partner for the ANC if it loses its majority in national elections next year, as polls indicate will happen for the first time since 1994.

Meanwhile, state power monopoly Eskom on Sunday suspended the rolling blackouts for the first time this year, citing a recovery in generation capacity despite a crisis in its ageing power stations. It planned to reinstate the power cuts on Monday but at a lower level than the outages reached in recent weeks. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023