Helen Zille, who had been leading the march by her Democratic Alliance (DA) party on economic issues, said to the those who gathered to oppose the march: “You are not on the side of the poor. The DA is on the side of the poor.”
Her speech was drowned out by the union demonstrators. After they threw rocks at the truck from which she was speaking, she was bundled into a small car and driven away. Her supporters then started throwing rocks at the union protesters.
Watch footage of the protests here:
The DA said it was marching in support of a youth subsidy it believes will give more opportunities for jobless young South Africans. The DA believes the subsidy, proposed by the governing African National Congress, could create at least 423,000 jobs for young South Africans.
South Africa’s unemployment rate is high, with a quarter of the work force unemployed in the nation of 50-million people.
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The trade union coalition, COSATU, is an ANC ally, but differs with the ANC on youth subsidies. COSATU says subsidies will encourage companies to lower all wages.
Patrick Craven, the COSATU spokesman, condemned the violence, and said COSATU supporters also were injured.
He denied the counter-protest was organized to silence the DA, saying workers gathered only to show they reject DA policies.
“It was certainly an attempt to have a show of strength. There was absolutely no intention to have violence,” he said.
The protest was planned to end at COSATU’s headquarters, but the marchers turned away three blocks from their destination because of the violence. As the crowd made their way back into town, police sprayed the last of the DA crowd with water from a truck.
Vusi Sefuba, a 26-year-old wearing a DA T-shirt, limped after the marchers as they headed back into central Johannesburg. He said he’d been hit by a rock.
“I don’t see any progress in this country unless the DA takes over,” he said.
Sefuba, who said he was a former supporter of the governing African National Congress, said the DA had called the peaceful march in support of a youth subsidy proposed by the ANC as a way to encourage companies to hire young people.
Mpopi Maubane, a 24-year-old student at a secretarial school, was split between the two sides Tuesday. She stood outside COSATU’s headquarters with a white-on-red sign that read, “No to a 2-tier economy,” an anti-youth subsidy slogan. But she said she knows the subsidy might help her get a job when she finishes school.
COSATU and the ANC have her loyalty, Maubane said, because they led the fight against apartheid.
“But we’re also saying DA has a point,” Maubane said.
Tuesday’s march also appeared to be a bid by the DA, which has its roots in a white liberal party that opposed apartheid, to build credibility among South Africa’s impoverished Black majority.