By Anna Majavu and Linda Pona
About 150 Makhanda residents joined the national shutdown called by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) yesterday, holding a peaceful march from Soccer City through the town centre.
The shutdown was called in protest against loadshedding, corruption, increasing crime rates, escalating poverty and joblessness, with protestors calling for president Cyril Ramaphosa to step down.
As the protestors set off on a pre-march around Fingo before heading to town, a strong stench of faeces from municipal sewage leaks on the road filled the air. Protestors were forced to trudge through large, fetid puddles of sewage that had pooled in the many potholes in the area.
Paulnita Marais, Member of Parliament in the Sara Baartman region and a member of the EFF Central Command team, told Grocott’s Mail that despite the small numbers, she viewed the shutdown as a success because it had highlighted the “abnormal” situation that most people in the country found themselves in.
“People are still staying in shacks with pit latrines. Children are attending school with three teachers in a school. The situation in South Africa is not normal,” Marais said.
It was abnormal that young people who had graduated with degrees could not find jobs and were forced to apply for social relief of distress grants, she said.
“Seeing donkeys, sheep, and cows walking in town – there is nothing normal about that. But there is no land,” she added.
Marais also criticized the police for coming out in large numbers to the march, saying, “when a husband is beating his wife to death and cutting her up, the police are nowhere to be found. They say there is no vehicle, no petrol, no diesel. Yet for the past three days, the police and army have been running around the whole country using up taxpayers’ money that could have been given to old people for medication and food,” she said.
The peaceful nature of the shutdown in Makhandahad also disrupted the media narrative that EFF members were violent and would loot and damage property, she said.
Buhle Sisiwe, an EFF activist, said he had joined the shutdown because Ramaphosa had failed the people.
“The shutdown is long overdue. Loadshedding is killing us, crime is increasing rapidly and gender-based violence is rising. We have no faith in the so-called president. He needs to step down with immediate effect because he has failed this democracy. The whole ANC is too scandalous,” said Sisiwe.
Ngelakhe Gxwali, an EFF Student Command activist from Rhodes, said the government had failed the youth.
“Clearly, our country is not in a good state right now. As youth, we feel like it is our prerogative to take action because tomorrow, our parents will not be here to complain. When is the country going to realise that we youth are looking to them, when we finish getting our degrees, to help us get jobs? We are actually fighting for better futures for our children as well,” Gxwali added.
EFF Makana councillor Mzamo Booysen said he had been followed by private security and police cars since he began organising the event.
“It seems like I have committed a crime by mobilising comrades to stand up against loadshedding. I want to send a strong message to the minister [Bheki Cele]. He mustn’t use our taxes this way. It’s as though he is using them to defend Ramaphosa’s position. I am trying to fight for everyone in South Africa, to ensure that they sleep and wake up with electricity” Booysen said.
The EFF and Saftu called the shutdown “to demand electricity and the resignation of Cyril Ramaphosa”.
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said, “This is a demonstration of the working class, the marginalised, the voiceless, the excluded, and the Black people who were promised a better life but who are currently the face of poverty, and who are the victims of rampant looting”.
Vavi added that the current government was a failed state as “it was unable to perform the most basic responsibilities required by the Constitution”.