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Young South Africans protest for jobs

Published on 27/10/2011

More than 2,000 people marched Thursday through Johannesburg to demand jobs and a greater share of South Africa's riches, led by the embattled youth leader 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 and fight poverty in a country with 25.7 percent unemployment.

They marched from the city centre to the Chamber of Mines and then on to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, where they handed over petitions calling for nationalisation of South Africa’s rich mines and better salaries for workers.

The ANC has refused to endorse Malema’s call for government to take 60 percent stakes in the mines, with some top officials warning the debate is harming efforts to attract investment and create jobs.

The marchers carried placards reading “90 percent of the economy in the hands of the minority”, while another said “Nationalisation: a better life for all”. A big banner demanded free education.

“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.

As the crowd passed the Chamber of Mines, a banner hung from the building reading: “We agree with you that unemployment is too high, poverty is too high.”

Precautions surrounding the march were in many ways more impressive than the protest itself, as police closed roads and nearby schools urged parents to keep their children home. The Chamber of Mines prepared an evacuation plan for its staff.

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, igniting fears of new unrest Thursday. No incidents were reported as the march progressed slowly through the city.

While the march addressed very real concerns in South Africa, which has one of the world’s biggest gaps between rich and poor, political analyst Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa said the protest was more about Malema seeking to secure his political future.

His disciplinary hearing is scheduled to wrap up next week, when he could face suspension or even expulsion from the ANC.

“If he can demonstrate that there is real substantial support within the ANC beyond the Youth League, then it will be much difficult to either suspend his membership or to expel him from the ANC,” Kotze said.

“It is for his political future, but he raises important national issues in the process.”