SA leader leaves Commonwealth summit to deal with protests

Pretoria, April 20 (IANS) South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had to cut short his attendance at the Commonwealth summit in London to deal with violent protests at home, his office said.

Clashes have taken place in North West province where protesters are demanding jobs, housing and an end to corruption. Shops have been looted, roads barricaded and vehicles set alight, a BBC report said.

Neighbouring Botswana said it had closed exit points along its shared border with North West province.

“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…,” an official statement said.

Ramaphosa has called for calm and ordered police to exercise restraint. South African media said officers used tear gas to disperse protesters who had set alight a bus, stoned vehicles and blocked roads with burning tyres.

Protests began in the North West province on Wednesday as demonstrators demanded the resignation of provincial Premier Supra Mahumapelo — a member of Ramaphosa’s governing African National Congress (ANC).

The President was scheduled to hold meetings with ANC leaders in the provincial capital Mahikeng on Friday, the BBC report quoted his office as saying.

Mahikeng has been at the centre of the latest disturbances — dubbed “service delivery protests” — and streets were reported to be deserted on Thursday after bouts of looting and clashes with police.

Nine people have been arrested since Wednesday, South Africa’s Timeslive reported citing police spokesperson Adele Myburgh.

Mahumapelo’s office has denounced the protests as an attempt to discredit him.

“(It is) an anti-Supra Mahumapelo political campaign which seeks to intimidate residents of Mahikeng‚” spokesman Brian Setswambung said, according to Timeslive.

Ramaphosa, who took office in February, has sought to encourage investment in South Africa during his visit to Britain to help kick-start the economy. He said his government was determined to tackle corruption

South Africa’s faltering economy has been a priority for Ramaphosa since he took over from former President Jacob Zuma, the BBc said.

Growth had been weak and unemployment painfully high as Zuma’s leadership was dogged by years of corruption allegations.

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