Johannesburg - Several thousand African National Congress Youth League members, including the Black First Land First (BLF) movement, brought the streets of the city's banking district to a standstill on Friday during a march to Absa's headquarters, following the release of the Public Protector’s report.
"The march is against Absa and the money that Absa took from the South African Reserve Bank, which amounts to more than R2bn. It's money that we believe, as the ANCYL, can be used to fund free education, seeing that free education is a need and a must in this country,” said Youth League Gauteng Secretary Bones Modise.
"Students are struggling, and we are fighting for free education. Education is the best investment, where possible we want to take 100% of the money and fund education for the poor," said ANCYL national organiser Biko Mathe.
Roads were blocked as the huge crowd made its way from Beyers Naude Square, down Marshall Street, to Maboneng Precinct. People watching from rooftops took video footage of the march, while staff in stores closed their doors as the crowd made its way downtown.
There was a heavy security presence, as traffic officials maintained order.
"We are saying we want that R2.2bn to be paid back to government with interest. The minister of finance can make a determination with the JSE, calculating interest from all those years," said Mathe.
A similar march was held in Western Cape.
"When Absa gives you money, they expect interest so they must do the same. We are going to engage Absa until leadership listens to our call. For now, we are still begging them. They can use e-wallet, EFT, they can use Shoprite, they can use cash send, but we just want our money back," said ANCYL Western Cape treasurer Wela Dlulane.
The Johannesburg organisers said they hoped to meet with Maria Ramos, CEO of Barclays Africa Group, to hand over a memorandum asking her to pay back the money. They also said that they were planning on targeting other institutions as well.
"We will continue shutting down every Absa every day in the whole of Gauteng. We will continue to disrupt their business until they pay back the money. From Absa, we are going to other institutions as well, Old Mutual and other institutions that know that they owe the government billions of money," said Modise.
A student leader of the Black First Land First (BLF) movement said that other policy issues could be set aside in order to focus on the common objective.
"Power is in the hands of white monopoly capital, so we cannot disagree with ANC when they say Absa stole the money. We say to Zuma he must implement free education in his last two years, the money that was stolen must be used for this," Phumzile Jack said.
BLF is planning a march to the South African Reserve Bank in Pretoria on the February 17.
*This story has been corrected to accurately portray the number of marchers. News24 regrets the error that was introduced during the editing process.