‘City Press’ reporters Charl du Plessis and Athandiwe Saba give us their from-the-scene accounts of yesterday’s drama in Johannesburg

2014-02-13 00:00

Charl du Plessis:

I WAS less than 150 metres from the offices where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo used to practise law in downtown Johannesburg when I saw the petrol bombs. “This is it,” I thought. “Chaos.”

Just a few minutes earlier, I’d been at the counter at one of Joburg’s dark and musty street-level cafes, buying a Coke and thinking the DA’s march was all over.

Until this point, police had succeeded in keeping the DA marchers well away from the thousands of singing and dancing ANC supporters, many carrying bricks, iron poles and knobkerries, gathered in a claustrophobic, heaving mass between the tall buildings outside Luthuli House.

Suddenly things are in motion.

I hear two loud but dull thuds, and screaming in the distance.

The Coke is regretfully jettisoned as I start jogging towards the sounds, passing smartly-dressed, shocked-looking business types gathered in little clumps near the Chamber of Mines building.

Just when I start to think that all I’d heard was just one of those loud bangs that sometimes happen in the Joburg CBD, there’s another two, much louder and sharper this time.

Suddenly I’m in a mob of journalists and we’re all sprinting in the same direction. As we round the corner into Miriam Makeba Street, the smoke from the stun grenades is still hanging in the air .

I stop to type a tweet about the stun grenades, which the police are using to try and make ANC supporters retreat from the DA’s gathering point.

Ahead of me, some police and civilians are huddled behind a twin-cab bakkie.

As I look up, I catch sight of two burning petrol bombs flying towards a police officer, who just manages to avoid them.

These are rapidly followed by more rocks thrown by protesters, arcing high into the air. I decide to stay put, but more police officers are rushing past me to reinforce the area.

The ANC supporters retreat, leaving behind a group of sweaty but smiling reporters outside a corner cafe, a stone’s throw from Mandela’s law practice.

Athandiwe Saba:

AS DA members gathered in Johannesburg yesterday, I was reminded of their last march to Cosatu headquarters, when blood was spilt. But the DA members acted like that march had never happened, as though they had not heard the threats ANC members had made since yesterday’s march was announced.

Party leader Helen Zille, fenced in by security guards, waved at supporters.

Along the way, DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko addressed the crowd, telling them the government owed people jobs and President Jacob Zuma would only lie again in today’s State of the Nation Address.

DA Youth leader Mbali Ntuli shouted “Asibasabi siyabafuna (We are not scared of them, we want them)”.

I thought: how could they say this so close to the hornets’ nest?

Then it was announced “the ANC are five minutes away”. Zille’s pleas for calm fell on deaf ears. And then came a hail of stones thrown by ANC supporters, followed by the sound of stun grenades.

I found safety in the middle ground abuzz with police officers, where the tar was littered with broken bricks.

The ANC supporters were seething with anger. Their yellow shirts spat “Bayasinyela. Bazothini apha? (They are s***ting on us. What do they think they are doing here?)”

They returned to Luthuli House, minus four members arrested by the police, and the DA wisely abandoned the march.

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