The Purpose of the National Shutdown, 20 March 2023: South Africa

What was the purpose of the National Shutdown 20 March 2023 in South Africa?


In the volatile landscape of South African politics, the National Shutdown of 20 March 2023 stands as a potent symbol of dissent and civil unrest. Orchestrated by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the protest marked an attempt to voice significant societal discontent and influence national politics. With the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa and an end to load-shedding as their rallying cries, the EFF aimed to mobilize nationwide support. However, the event’s impact and the EFF’s actual success remain subjects of considerable debate. This article focuses on the purpose, preparation, impact, and the aftermath of this monumental day, providing a comprehensive overview of a key event in South Africa’s recent history.

The Purpose of the National Shutdown, 20 March 2023: South Africa

The South African National Shutdown of 20 March 2023 marked a significant day in the country’s recent political history. Organized by the political party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the shutdown was held on the eve of Human Rights Day. The demonstration was meant to be a call to action, demanding the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa and an end to load-shedding.

EFF leader, Julius Malema, issued a stark warning to businesses nationwide, urging them to close their doors or face the potential risk of being looted. Media outlet, Mail and Guardian, speculated that the shutdown was likely a “dry-run” to test EFF’s campaigning abilities in preparation for the forthcoming 2024 general elections.

According to a poll conducted by the Social Research Foundation, the support for EFF had declined significantly, from 12% in July 2022 to 6% in March 2023. This was just ahead of the shutdown.

Video: National Shutdown | Malema describes shutdown march as the most successful in South Africa’s history

The Purpose of the National Shutdown

The purpose of the National Shutdown on 20th March 2023 in South Africa was to express a strong political statement organized by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party. It aimed to:

  1. Call for the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa: The EFF felt that the president was not effectively leading the country and wanted to pressure him into stepping down.
  2. End Load-Shedding: Load-shedding is a measure used by the national power utility, Eskom, to prevent the collapse of the power system in South Africa. It involves planned rolling blackouts or power cuts to manage the demand for electricity. The EFF demanded that this practice stop, believing it to be harmful to both citizens and businesses.
  3. Mobilize Support and Assert Influence: As the Mail and Guardian speculated, the shutdown also served as a test run for the EFF’s campaigning abilities in preparation for the 2024 general elections. Despite their declined electoral support, as reported by the Social Research Foundation, the EFF hoped to rally support and make a strong statement of their political influence through this national shutdown.
  4. Raise awareness of socio-economic issues: The shutdown was also a platform to highlight and protest against perceived socio-economic injustices, which were central to the EFF’s political agenda.

The National Shutdown aimed to give voice to discontent and serve as a catalyst for political and societal change in South Africa.

Preparations Leading to the Shutdown

Apart from EFF, several other organizations like the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), the Land Party, and Carl Niehaus’s African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (Areta) participated in support of the shutdown. Conversely, minibus taxi companies like Santaco distanced themselves from the shutdown, fearing further damage to the economy.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) sought court interdicts against the shutdown in Western Cape and Gauteng provinces, with mixed success. The South African Police Service also assured citizens of their safety and enforced measures to prevent any forcible shutdown.

In the hours leading up to the shutdown, over 24,000 car tires were confiscated across the country by authorities, indicating a probable intent to create roadblocks and ignite chaos on the day of the shutdown.

Impact of the National Shutdown, 20 March 2023

On the day of the shutdown, significant protest action and violence was reported, particularly in the EFF strongholds of Limpopo and Gauteng provinces. Here, EFF critic Nhlanhla Lux’s home was allegedly bombed, and national bus operator Putco had to cease some of its operations due to reports of intimidation.

In contrast, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape were mostly calm, except for the Nelson Mandela Bay area in the Eastern Cape, where two roads were reportedly closed due to burning tires. An estimated 150,000 people were reported to have attended the shutdown across the country.

Outcomes

Despite the reports of lower-than-expected turnout, Malema described the event as “the most successful shutdown in the history of South Africa”. However, he also pointed to the cancellation of chartered buses for protesters, an unexpectedly strong police and army presence, and a lack of load-shedding as reasons for the lower turnout.

In contrast, media outlets and rival political parties painted a different picture. They characterized the shutdown as a failure for the EFF, possibly damaging the party’s image in the run-up to the national elections. Both the African National Congress (ANC) and the DA thanked South Africans for not responding to the EFF’s appeal to join the shutdown, claiming it was unsuccessful.

While the impact of the 2023 South African National Shutdown remains a topic of debate, its purpose was clear. It served as a platform for EFF to express their discontent with the current political leadership and state of the economy. However, whether it helped or hurt their cause remains to be seen, especially with the 2024 general elections on the horizon.

References

  1. Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr. (2023). Employment Law Alert: Monday, 20 March 2023 is Coming – Are You Prepared? Retrieved from https://www.cliffedekkerhofmeyr.com/en/news/publications/2023/Practice/Employment/employment-law-alert-13-march-Monday-20-March-2023-is-coming-are-you-prepared.html.
  2. Eyewitness News. (2023). EFF National Shutdown: What You Need to Know About What’s Happening Around SA. Retrieved from https://ewn.co.za/2023/03/20/eff-national-shutdown-what-you-need-to-know-about-what-s-happening-around-sa.
  3. Polity.org.za. (2023). Monday, 20 March 2023 is Coming: Tips to Survive the National Shutdown. Retrieved from https://www.polity.org.za/article/monday-20-march-2023-is-coming-tips-to-survive-the-national-shutdown-2023-03-17.
  4. Times Live. (2023). Updates: EFF’s National Shutdown on March 20. Retrieved from https://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2023-03-19-updates-effs-national-shutdown-on-march-20/.
  5. Mail & Guardian. (2023). Businesses Brace for EFF National Shutdown Amid Fears of Looting. Retrieved from https://mg.co.za/business/2023-03-17-businesses-brace-for-eff-national-shutdown-amid-fears-of-looting/.

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