President Cyril Ramaphosa cut short his visit to the UK to hold an urgent meeting with ANC leaders over the protests in Mahikeng in the North West, which have centred around dissatisfaction over premier Supra Mahumapelo's leadership.
Ramaphosa was in the process of returning to Pretoria on Thursday, to address the meeting in the North West on Friday, the presidency said in a statement.
"To pay attention to the situation in the North West, the President has decided to cut short his participation in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London where he is leading a government delegation."
Bringing in the big guns
The meeting in Mahikeng on Friday would be convened with structures of the ANC, the Leagues, Alliance and the ANC Caucus in the North West province.
Ramaphosa would be accompanied by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte and ANC NEC members.
He called for calm and asked all aggrieved parties to "express their grievances through peaceful means and engagement rather than violence and anarchy".
The president also called on law enforcement agencies to exercise maximum restraint in executing their duties to return calm and normality to the province.
Provincial police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Adele Myburgh said 16 people had been arrested since the protests started on Wednesday.
Her colleague, Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone, said a man was shot dead during a high speed chase with police in Mahikeng on Thursday but that it was not linked to the unrest.
He said the chase followed a robbery at one of the hotels in town.
Earlier on Thursday, the road leading from Zeerust into Mahikeng, was cleared after officers used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse protesters.
Protests against Mahumapelo brought the town to a standstill earlier in the day as burning tyres and rocks were used to barricade the road.
A long line of motorists who could not enter the town parked on the side of the road.
Roads leading to Mahikeng were blocked off during the day. (Iavan Pijoos, News24)
It was understood that protesters, who lit a tyre on the bridge over the road, had allowed vehicles to drive through if they paid R20.
Police arrived on scene and geared up before approaching the group.
The protesters shouted "we are not fighting, we are not fighting".
Officers fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, forcing protesters to run across the open fields to safety.
Rocks and tyres were then removed from the road to allow vehicles through.
Violence broke out in Mahikeng on Wednesday night when protesters took to the streets to call for Mahumapelo's removal.
Vehicles were also set alight.
The ANC in the North West said the protests were "unacceptable".
"While there are genuine service delivery protests, we as the ANC regard these latest acts of violence in Mahikeng as political opportunism disguised as community outrage," acting provincial secretary Suzan Dantjie said in a statement.
"This is evident in the main call of those who have been quoted in the media attacking ANC provincial chairperson, Cde Supra Mahumapelo, who is also premier of the province, using untested allegations of corruption," she said.
"We condemn the violence, torching and damage to property by protesters and want to make it clear that this is wrong... These acts of violence have led to learners not being able to go to school, patients unable to access health facilities, while public servants in clinics around Mahikeng, and Mahikeng Provincial Hospital are being harassed by some of the protesters."
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