Juju and Sushi King march for economic freedom

28 October 2011 - 02:23 By AMUKELANI CHAUKE

"What do you call a 60km march by thousands of ANC Youth League supporters?"

"A comrades' marathon," was the answer.

I giggled at this comment while making my way to Beyers Naude Square, in central Johannesburg, at 7am yesterday. Youth League president Julius Malema was scheduled to lead thousands of young people from the square in what he called a "march for economic freedom".

It didn't cross my mind how tough the walk would be.

Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela reportedly dubbed the march "a one-night stand with the poor" because, he said, it was a once-off affair that would not solve the problems of young people.

I wondered how long a one-night stand was supposed to last as I trudged along Oxford Road, blisters forming on the balls of my feet, under my toes and on my heels. I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

The sight of young people, mostly unemployed women, and other richer sympathisers with designer shirts covering large bellies, signalled that Malema and his crowd of about 15000 were about to take the longest march of their lives.

Malema was to lead the march from central Johannesburg, by way of the Chamber of Mines on Marshall Street, to the JSE in Sandton, and then on to Caledonian stadium, in Pretoria.

Unlike the protest against Malema's disciplinary hearing, which turned violent two months ago, yesterday's march was peaceful - but this time more than 1000 policemen were there to keep an eye on everybody.

For about five hours, youth league members sang struggle songs and danced to songs about Malema, while the lazy sat along the pavements of Simmonds Street telling glory stories about their bus ride to the big city for the highlight of their year.

As soon as Malema arrived at Beyers Naude Square, at about midday, wearing his trendy beret and yellow T-shirt with the face of former president Nelson Mandela emblazoned on it, the comrades' marathon got under way.

Said Malema under a canopy from the back of a truck: "If you have a bottle of water, you must share with another person. If you have a can of Coke, you must share with another person. Every little resources we have, we must share together because we are all from poor backgrounds.

"From the Chamber of Mines, we are marching to Sandton, to the JSE. We are not going to run, comrades. We must walk nicely, take your time ... from Sandton, we are going to Pretoria. So those who are not fit, they are going to be exposed today, because those of us who are fit, we are going to Pretoria. This is a long walk to economic freedom."

At the Chamber of Mines, Malema accused the chamber's CEO, Bheki Sibiya, of being the "face of white monopoly capital" - to the giggles of all present.

After handing over a memorandum, the crowd, waving placards and armed with what can only be described as "march survival kits" - backpacks containing bread, fruit juice, cigarettes and a warm jacket "in case the weather changes" - continued singing and dancing towards Sandton.

But they didn't stay a unified force for long.

Marching towards Constitution Hill, in Braamfontein, the marchers split into straggling groups. The stench of sweat pervaded the air and women took off their shoes as the march for economic freedom became ever slower.

But millionaire businessman Kenny Kunene, also known as Mr Sushi, manfully kept pace with Malema at the front, in spite of his extended belly.

With fear etched on their faces, managers of businesses along the route to Sandton closed their doors as they saw the marathon walkers approaching.

By the time they reached Forest Town, some struggling comrades were taking extended breaks on the pavements, and others waited for the taxis and buses behind the procession to pick them up.

One young man was heard saying: "We must send Julius invoices for the shoes we will buy."

"You must soldier on, comrade," said one marcher as I held my waist, a stitch in my side.

"Today you journalists are one of us and can even walk among us," said another, reminding me of when they threw stones at reporters when Malema appeared before Luthuli House's disciplinary hearing not long ago.

Sipho Mnisi, 27, from Linden, northern Johannesburg, said he had marched because unemployment is a "harsh environment". Despite qualifying as a chartered accountant two years ago, he is yet to find a job.

He speaks of what he calls "lies" that "the JSE is spreading" about black ownership of companies.

In an article at the weekend, Malema wrote: "The JSE recently released statistics which claim blacks own 17% of shares in listed companies, which is not true.

"Believing that South African society is gullible, JSE authorities spread misleading information in the hope of mitigating frustration and anger at their refusal to transform."

As we approached Sandton, I looked to my right and saw a sign that read "Keep Walking" on the window of a bottle store.

I then realised that this particular walk had been very long indeed, and I really felt like a shot of the whisky that the slogan represented.

After handing their memorandum of demands to a JSE representative, Malema told the crowd that they would continue to march to Pretoria and rest every 10km.

But I gave up and hobbled to the air-conditioned Rosebank offices of The Times.

X