JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s firebrand youth leader Julius Malema marched 2,000 young black South Africans through the streets of Johannesburg Thursday, demanding the part nationalisation of the country’s mines and seizure of white-owned farms.
Malema, head of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, challenged President Jacob Zuma’s government to do more to tackle the chronic unemployment blighting the continent’s biggest economy that is controlled by the white minority.
The protestors marched first to the Chamber of Mines to deliver a petition to black Chief Executive Bheki Sibiya then continued on to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to hand over a list of proposals that echoed the disastrous economic policies of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Malema said the marchers would continue onto the capital Pretoria to hand a petition to Zuma Friday.
“Down with white monopoly capital, down,” chanted Malema, who has fallen out of favour with Zuma whose government has ignored his radical calls for mine nationalisation and farm seizures.
Police cordoned off streets as the 2,000 chanting and singing protestors snaked their way from the central business district of South Africa’s commercial capital to the stock exchange in the upmarket Sandton financial district -- a 20 km (13 mile) walk on a hot summer day.
Some businesses around the Chamber of Mines in downtown Johannesburg and the stock exchange told employees to stay home and tightened security in case the protest turned violent.
In the petition to the Chamber of Mines, the mining industry body, the ANC Youth League demanded the state take 60 percent control of the country’s mines and all mineral processing plants be situated close to the mines.
South Africa, with the world’s largest gold reserves and 90 percent of its platinum, is the world’s fifth-biggest mining economy.
“The CEO is the face of white capital but he is a brother,” Malema said of the chamber’s CEO Sibiya, addressing marchers from the back of a truck. “He is one of our own but works for the wrong people.”
Sibiya acknowledged the poverty, unemployment and inequality that persists 17 years after the end of apartheid in South Africa and promised to respond to the petition within five days.
“Comrades, I will engage with all members of the Chamber of Mines and they will receive the letter,” he told the crowd.
However the Chamber of Mines said in a statement that it did not agree with the Youth League proposals, in particular nationalisation.
“This will severely damage the economic performance of the country and thus leave the population as a whole in a much worst state than before,” said the statement.
About 25 percent of South Africans are without work, and a study by the Institute of Race Relations has said half of 25-to-34-year-olds had little chance of ever finding employment.
“We are here because the youth is marginalised by unemployment,” said Youth League official Given Valashiya, 29.
“Unemployment is high, so it is important to nationalise the means of production in South Africa as well as expropriate the land. We want to remind our president about these issues.”
Malema rose to prominence when he campaigned for Zuma’s election in 2007 but he has since fallen out of favour with South Africa’s leader and his government with his radical calls proposals ignored.
Critics argue that Malema is using the march to divert attention from an ANC disciplinary hearing that could see him expelled from the party.
The growing gap between South Africa’s haves and have-nots has created political space for Malema, whose fearless challenges to everybody from Zuma to “white capitalists” has endeared him to the millions of impoverished blacks.
Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Ed Cropley and Alison Williams