Thousands of troops have been deployed to protect roads and businesses in South Africa, while scores of people were arrested as a Marxist opposition party tried to bring the country to a halt.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party ordered a national shutdown to call for the removal of president Cyril Ramaphosa for his failure to end the steep rise in unemployment and power blackouts.
Police arrested 87 people in advance of the protest and nearly 3,500 troops were deployed to strengthen security, amid fear the protests would descend into violence.
The government said businesses and shops were being intimidated into closing down but vowed security forces would ensure they could continue operating as normal.
The announcement of the protest had raised fears of looting and bloodshed, after political violence left at least 350 dead in 2021.
“Our people stay in shacks, our people don’t have water, our people don’t have electricity, 30 years into democracy,” the EFF’s leader, Julius Malema, told supporters at a rally.
“You don’t have weapons, you only have your bodies – go and put them on the picket lines and tell all those dictators in Africa that their days are numbered,” he said.
Political analysts said the shutdown was being viewed as a test of the EFF’s mobilising power a year ahead of national elections.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is thought unlikely to win a straight majority, leading to suggestions the EFF, which has been accused of anti-white rhetoric, could become a potential coalition partner.
Roads were quiet and shops closed in parts of Johannesburg and Pretoria, but there were few reports of violence. Both sides claimed victory. The ANC dismissed the shutdown to be a “flop”, while the EFF said it was a sign of a coming “revolution”.
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