In the wake of this week’s national shutdown called by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), party leader Julius Malema heaped scorn on government for deploying soldiers, saying it was “senseless and wasteful”.
“The state deployed the armed forces purely for the purpose of intimidation and they did not succeed in their attempts. This must concern South Africans who have an interest in a free democracy characterised by accountability. The deployment of the military against opposition is a hallmark of dictatorship and a sign of things to come as the ruling party edges closer to losing political power in South Africa.
“Thankfully, deployment of the Army and police to suppress political dissent was a complete failure and embarrassing because the people of South Africa refused to be intimidated,” an EFF statement reads.
The deployment of over four thousand SA National Defence Force (SANDF) members until 17 April to, among others, protect national key points and support police, came in for criticism from Malema’s party. It said the cost to South African taxpayers of R166 million plus was “wasteful”.
The EFF statement continues: “All attempts by the State to suppress the National Shutdown failed dismally. Their efforts, which included massive deployment of law enforcement and the military, disinformation tactics and narrative manipulation by Cabinet Ministers and the President himself, all failed. Ordinary citizens and businesses registered a motion of no confidence in Cyril Ramaphosa, who encouraged business to open and people to proceed like it would be a normal day, and no one listened to him”.
Malema questioned why the SANDF is being deployed for a month while the shutdown protest was only for a day (20 March), and suggested the government used loadshedding as a tool to keep the population content during the shutdown as the lights were kept on during and around the shutdown period. “It was used as a method to demobilise…it is possible to keep the lights on,” he said.
Malema declared the shutdown a success, even though only 150 000 people participated.
Osmail Lagardien a writer, columnist and political economist, wrote in the Daily Maverick that the national shutdown was a failure and a setback for Malema and the EFF.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a Human Rights Day speech on Tuesday, lauded most South Africans for not taking part in the shutdown. “Even though others would want to diminish this democracy, even though others would want to abuse the rights of others, intimidate them, compel them to participate in a protest, compel them to participate in days when they should not go to work. I am happy that the majority of South Africans did not heed the call, but they exercised their rights as South Africans,” said Ramaphosa.
A post-shutdown report from the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) showed that over 550 people were arrested on 20 March for, amongst others, public violence, intimidation, damage to critical infrastructure, theft and attempted looting. A high security presence across the country ensured that scenes of looting and mass protest did not materialise, especially as 24 000 tyres were confiscated before they could be burnt or used to block roads.