2,000 protest for jobs in South Africa
About 2,000 people Thursday sang and danced in a square in downtown Johannesburg to demand jobs, in a protest organised by the militant youth wing of the ruling African National Congress.
Protesters were bused in from around the country to support the Youth League leader Julius Malema, who accuses his party's government of not doing enough to create jobs in a country with 25.7 percent unemployment.
They plan to march to the Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, before making a 60-kilometre (35-mile) trek to the capital Pretoria where they plan to hold a vigil in the evening.
"If I was working I wouldn't be here," said Mpho Mokgehle, 28, one of the marshals of the march.
"That's why I want to say to the government we need jobs," she told AFP.
Another youth said he marched to draw attention to the dire state of public services.
"Some of us don't have water, still use the bucket system. We don't have toilets," said unemployed Makhanye Mduduzi, 26.
Protesters danced on the roads around the square, waving placards that decried unemployment and poverty in a country with one of the world's biggest gaps between rich and poor.
One read "90% of the economy in the hands of the minority", while another said "Nationalisation: a better life for all", echoing the youth league's calls for the country to nationalise its mines. A big banner demanded free education.
Hundreds of police, some in riot gear, watched over the gathering, with paramedics on standby in case people became dehydrated in the heat. Major roads and bridges in Johannesburg were closed off and schools along the march routes sent notices to parents to keep their children home.
The protest has created divisions within the ANC, which rejected the Youth League's plan to camp out on the lawn of the Union Buildings, the seat of government.
In a statement Wednesday, the party acknowledged that it "was too late to stop the march", but called on the youth league to tone down its rhetoric and avoid any violence.
Malema's outspoken rhetoric has strained his ties with the ANC, which is wrapping up a disciplinary process against him after he called for "regime change" in neighbouring Botswana.
When the disciplinary hearings opened in August, Malema supporters vandalised shops in downtown Johannesburg.
© 2011 AFP