South African President Cyril Ramaphosa cut short his visit to Britain by a day to return home to deal with protests in the country’s North West province, his office said.
Protesters seeking jobs, better housing, roads and hospitals frequently clash with police in a country faced with weak economic growth and near-record unemployment. These are the first big demonstrations since Ramaphosa took power in February.
The unrest, dubbed “service delivery protests”, has mounted over the years.
The protests started on Wednesday with residents demanding provincial Premier Supra Mahumapelo, a member of Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress party, step down.
Ramaphosa called for calm, ordered police to exercise maximum restraint and urged aggrieved parties not to resort to violence.
He was due to return to South Africa on Friday from London, where he is leading a delegation to a Commonwealth summit.
South African media reported a bus was set alight, vehicles stoned and roads blockaded by protesters calling for Mahumapelo to quit because of a failure to adequately deliver services. Police fired teargas to disperse crowds.
Botswana’s government said it closed exit points to South Africa’s North West province, where the countries share a border. The troubled province is 300 km west of Johannesburg.