South Africa’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, staged a protest rally Wednesday in downtown Johannesburg that produced more than a little tension on both sides. The march is a precursor to the South African general elections scheduled for May 7th.
The Democratic Alliance marched with the intention of sending a message to the current ruling party of South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC is considered the standard bearer for protest in South Africa, having challenged the authority of white minority rule back in the 1990’s, culminating in the official end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela through multi-racial democratic elections.
The two sides squared off as the Democratic Alliance attempted to march near ANC headquarters, causing some ruling party members to throw bricks in the direction of protesters. Things got worse from there, and most reports seem to indicate much of the aggression came from ANC activists trying to prevent opposition party members from marching closer to their headquarters. In addition to bricks being used, there have been reports of the use of Molotov cocktails as well.
Police on the scene were able to suppress much of the ANC aggression through the use of stun grenades and rubber bullets. At one point during the demonstration they even joined together to create a human barrier in an effort to keep the two sides apart.
However, the Democratic Alliance did not seem to be pleased with security at the scene. Alliance leader Helen Zille stated the ANC was “above the law”, an obvious implication that the police may not have been interesting in restraining the ruling party. A police spokesman said of the rally: “The march was fairly peaceful until our members were pelted with stones and petrol bombs from the ANC side.”
Professor Daryl Glaser, head of the political studies department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, attempted to articulate the motivations of the Democratic Alliance in regard to the political rally, stating they were trying to “exercise some command of that marching mode, public protest mode, which has been something of a monopoly of the ANC.”
Despite evidence to the contrary, ANC representatives claimed the Democratic Alliance were the cause of heightening tensions, exclaiming: “They are taking us back to an era when violence and conflict defined our political environment.”
While this demonstration did not reach the levels of apartheid-era unrest in South Africa, there was enough tension and conflict to suggest matters may only escalate further leading up to the general elections in May.