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S Africa’s Ramaphosa Cuts Short UK Trip Over Violent Protests

The South African president returned home a day early after violent clashes broke out in North West province.

Cyril Ramaphosa has cut short his trip to the Commonwealth summit in the UK by a day to address violent demonstrations at home.

The South African president called for calm and asked law enforcement to “exercise maximum restraint” in a statement issued on Thursday amid clashes in North West province.

Protests broke out on Wednesday in the province’s capital Mahikeng, with residents demanding the resignation of local premier Supra Mahumapelo of the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) and the restoration of health services.

They are the first big demonstrations since Ramaphosa took office two months ago.

Many people you talk to say they are frustrated and they want the president to effect changes to help improve their livelihood

Local media reported buses and cars were set on fire and shops had been looted.

“All school, clinics and the hospital have been shut down. Protesters have blocked the roads with rocks in Danville,” police spokesperson Adele Myburgh told South African news site News24.

On Thursday, one man was killed in a car chase between police and protesters, TimesLive reported. The South African news site said police confirmed the death but claimed they had nothing to do with it.

Sixteen people have reportedly been arrested for public violence since the protests broke out.

Residents took to the streets after it was reported on Sunday that state-owned arms company Denel had “bent the rules” to give a 1.1 million south african rand ($92,000) bursary to Mahumapelo’s son. Denel said the award was given in “compliance” with Denel’s policy.

High unemployment

National broadcaster eNCA said the protests had been sparked by the death of two locals who could not get help at a clinic due to a go-slow strike that has been in force for weeks.

The office of Mahumapelo has called for an end to the protests.

“[It is] an anti-Supra Mahumalepo political campaign which seeks to intimidate residents of Mahikeng,” TimesLive quoted his spokesperson Brian Setswambung as saying.

Reporting from Johannesburg, Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi said many of the issues faced by residents of North West province were felt throughout the country.

“The economy of the country is struggling, the unemployment rate is extremely high,” she said.

“South Africa is synonymous to protests, we’ve seen students in the last years protesting saying fees have to drop, we’ve seen minors protesting asking for a better job environment.

“Many people you talk to say they are frustrated and they want the president to effect changes to help improve their livelihood.”

Neighbouring Botswana reportedly closed entry points leading to Mahikeng on Thursday.

Ramaphosa is set to visit North West province on Friday.

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