Johannesburg: Young South Africans brought their frustration over poverty and joblessness to the streets on Thursday, responding to a call by the tough-talking youth leader of the governing African National Congress who has clashed with older party leaders over economic policy.
Police and ANC Youth League marshals kept a close watch as several hundred protesters gathered in a central Johannesburg square, dance music blaring from speakers. Similar protests have been held around the world, but here protesters occasionally broke into chants dating from the struggle against apartheid.
Protester Tsholofelo Stephina Bester said the ANC must act faster to help the poor. Bester said that when she graduated from high school 10 years ago, she couldn`t afford further studies to pursue her dream of becoming a social worker. She has been looking for steady work since. For the last two years, she has volunteered as an AIDS counsellor, earning "pocket money" of 1,500 rand (about USD 190) a month. She and her seven-year-old daughter get by on that and welfare assistance.
"I want them not to promise without delivering," she said of ANC leaders. "I want them to deliver."
ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema plans to lead protesters from the square where they gathered early Thursday on an "economic freedom march" to the headquarters of South Africa`s mining bosses and to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, then about 60 kilometres (about 40 miles) north to Pretoria, the seat of government. After an overnight vigil in a Pretoria sports stadium, Malema will present government officials with his demands, which include jobs, housing and other help for the poor, and nationalising the mines.
ANC leaders say talk about nationalising mines undermines investor confidence, while Malema calls them "cowards”, accusing them of being afraid to take on powerful mine bosses. Malema also says whites remain privileged 17 years after the end of apartheid, and that big business largely remains in white hands.
Thursday`s protest may be aimed as much at influencing ANC economic policy as showing older leaders Malema cannot be ignored. Next year, President Jacob Zuma faces an internal party leadership vote that could also determine who will be South Africa`s next president.