Julius Malema has arrived at the starting point of the ANC Youth League’s march, already beset by delays as transport problems keep supporters away.
“You are making history today,” he told hundreds who had gathered at Beyers Naude Square in Johannesburg, before setting out to the march’s first stop, the Chamber of Mines.
“This is our long walk to economic freedom,” he exclaimed.
As part of their “economic freedom in our lifetime” campaign, the leadership of the youth league were expecting 5 000 people to march from the square to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Chamber of Mines in Sandton and then on to Pretoria for a night vigil.
Addressing about 2 000 marchers, Malema encouraged restraint and patience as they began to move out from Johannesburg to Sandton and then Pretoria later in the day.
Restraint may not be difficult to achieve, as — despite the obvious enthusiasm of the leaders — many of the marchers seemed to be wilting in the Johannesburg heat.
The fatigue did not go unnoticed.
“There is no hurry, we have the whole day,” said Malema. “You must take your time and remember: We are marching with you,” he said.
Earlier, the league’s deputy president Ronald Lamola told the hundreds of people who had already gathered at the square that there were transport problems.
“Do not fear, the leadership is here. There are many hurdles of getting comrades to arrive here in Johannesburg,” said Lamola.
He had shouted “Viva Gaddafi” just before addressing the crowd from the back of a bakkie.
Hat’s what I’m talking about
Nearby, a vendor was hoping to make a quick buck by selling Malema’s iconic beret.
“You are here for him, you must be like him,” he said.
Earlier, a group of supporters started marching around the block in between traffic but were stopped by police and told to march only at the square.
They were in an upbeat mood, singing and chanting revolutionary songs, including the controversial Dubul’ibhunu (shoot the boer) chant, which has been declared hate speech by a court.
Marchers also sang “Siyaya phambili noma besidubula” (We are going forward even though they shoot at us).
Some of the placards carried by marchers read: “The real freedom is economic not parliamentary. Fee my people.”
Another with slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s picture read: “We salute anti-imperialist martyr Gaddafi”, “90% of the economy is still in the hands of the minority” and “Malema we must stand by you through thick and thin”.
Police and a private security company hired by the youth league continued monitoring the situation.
On Monday, youth league leader Julius Malema said there would be 1 000 youth league marshals, 500 police officers as well as private security company members to ensure the march was peaceful.
The ANC itself has lent tacit support to the ANC Youth League’s march plans.
Holding a press briefing at Luthuli House in Johannesburg on Wednesday, the party’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told reporters the youth league had consulted the mother body on the matter.
“After an intense engagement the parties accepted the march was neither against ANC government nor linked to the 2012 elective National Conference of the ANC. The rhetoric that came up during the mobilisation phase that created negative perceptions has been toned down and corrected in the remaining few days and [will be] during the march itself,” he said.
This is the first time the ANC has openly accepted the demonstration — which coincides with the birthday of former ANC president Oliver Tambo.
Initial plans to continue the march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in order to hand over a memorandum of demands to the office of President Jacob Zuma on Friday have been amended following the negotiations.
“Marching to the seat of government was sending a negative signal of the ANC being at war with itself. The tone of this leg of the march must therefore change to one that is supportive of government programs,” Mantashe said.
Accordingly, the intended night vigil that was due to take place in the Union Buildings gardens has been moved to the Caledonian Stadium in Tshwane, and an alternative route other than the highway to Pretoria was also agreed upon.
Mantashe assured journalists the youth league would lead a nonviolent march and that scenes reminiscent of the first day of Malema’s disciplinary hearing, where league supporters clashed with police and media, would not occur.
He said the party was satisfied all the necessary elements had been put in place for a peaceful march. “If any structure organises an activity that structure must take full responsibility for that activity,” he said.
The ANC also said it would monitor the march closely for anything it deems will “embarrass the party”.
Private sector failures
In providing an insight into the sudden change of heart by the ANC, Mantashe pointed to the private sector’s inability to rise to the challenge of creating jobs in the South African economy.
“This march is about job creation and equality. The government has been a major creator of jobs but the private sector has not stepped up to the challenge,” he said.
Mantashe was also at pains to point out that it was never the ruling party’s intention to have the march called off, but rather to “look into all possibilities” when it met with the league.
“We didn’t want to stop the march but we looked into all possibilities — we had an elaborate engagement, as I have said, looking at all options. This is what we came up with,” he added.
The ANC’s stance is in great contrast to some of its affiliates and members of the tripartite alliance, who have either boycotted the march or organised events of their own.
The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) on Thursday released a statement saying it will be hosting an event at Lillieslief Farm in Sandton commemorating Tambo’s birthday.
The South African Communist Party (SACP) has maintained the march is not about economic freedom, but rather to enhance the profile of the league’s president Julius Malema.
The SACP’s youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), is hosting a three day job summit in Midrand beginning on Wednesday — seen by many as a snub to the young lions of the ANCYL.
After initially providing conditional support for the ANCYL march, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) withdrew its support.
Mum on Malema DC
Towards the end of the briefing, Mantashe would not be drawn into commenting on the disciplinary hearing Malema is facing, which continued in Nasrec on Wednesday.
I have to remind you that I am not part of the [disciplinary committee] so allow the DC space to conduct its work. Once they have reached their decision we will receive the report. Let that process take its course,” he said.
Mantashe did however maintain that any concessions relating to Thursday’s march will have no bearing on the outcome of the hearing.
Meanwhile, ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela Mandela testified as the final witness in Malema’s defence on Wednesday, saying he should not “be punished for leading the youth”.
ANC disciplinary committee chairperson Derek Hanekom confirmed the hearing will resume on November 3 for closing arguments, which will be followed by the drafting of the disciplinary committee’s ruling on the matter.
Malema faces charges of bringing the ANC into disrepute and sowing divisions within the party after calling for regime change in Botswana. — Additional reporting by Sapa