National shutdown planned for next week – what you need to know

 ·14 Mar 2023

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has confirmed that it will be taking to the streets in a planned national shutdown next Monday, 20 March, and has called on all South Africans to participate.

What is being protested?

In short, the protest is against everything going wrong in South Africa – however, EFF leader Julius Malema is headlining two key points: president Cyril Ramaphosa and load shedding.

At face value, the protest opposes ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and will call for his resignation while demanding that electricity be restored to the country.

The EFF has homed in on Ramaphosa and the Phala Phala scandal as a lightning rod for all the ills the country faces. They accuse the president of presiding over a failing state, and for enabling corruption.

The party also blames the president and the ANC for the power crisis and the problems at Eskom.

However, Malema’s pre-shutdown rally call this week pointed out that the party is also rallying over high levels of unemployment, the “high standard (sic)” of living, gender-based violence, poor education, and the lack of free tertiary education.

In effect, any sticking point that impacts South Africa, or can rile up support, is part of the EFF’s call to action.

Where are the protests taking place?

The EFF nor any of the additional organisations joining the protest action have detailed any specific locations in the county which will be targeted – however, they have warned businesses and companies across the country to shut down for the day.

Party members have warned shops and factories in various areas to shut down “to avoid the looting“. The party wants nothing in the country to operate that day.

Student bodies have also been signing on to participate in the protest, indicating that universities and other places of learning might be impacted.

The EFF has previously engaged with the taxi industry, indicating that public transport could also be affected on the day.

Who is taking part?

Along with the EFF, which is pushing for the shutdown, other groups have confirmed to be going along with the plan.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has submitted and had its ‘intention to protest’ approved by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in terms of section 77.

SAFTU is the country’s second-largest union and has an estimated membership of roughly 800,000 workers.

Other groups that have signed on to take part in the shutdown include 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.

What is being done?

So far, very little information has made its way through official channels.

According to the SAPS, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) is preparing for the day and has warned the EFF and joining protestors that criminality and violence won’t 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.

“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,” said Cape Town mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis.

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.

“Cape Town will be open for business as usual, and authorities are well prepared and equipped to deal with what is likely to be only limited, isolated attempts at disruption by the EFF. Would-be disruptors will be arrested, and we are also seeking a precautionary interdict against looting, vandalism or disruptions,” said Hill-Lewis.

“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.”

“There will be no national shutdown in Cape Town,” he said.

On a provincial level, Alan Winde, the premier of the Western Cape, said it is pursuing “all legal options” to ensure that the EFF is obliged to respect the rule of law and refrain from destructive action.

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