JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Young South Africans brought their frustration over poverty and joblessness to the streets Thursday, responding to a call by the tough-talking youth leader of the governing African National Congress who has clashed with older party leaders over economic policy.
"Shoot the boer!" the peaceful crowd of thousands sang, a black liberation war-era chant that a South African court has ruled is racist and that the ANC ordered youth leader Julius Malema and his followers to stop singing. "Boer," farmer in the language of Dutch-descended South Africans, is sometimes used for all whites.
Malema led the crowd in chants of "Down with white monopoly capital!" as it approached the Chamber of Mines headquarters.
A banner at the mining headquarters declared "We agree with you that unemployment is too high, poverty is too high, inequality is too high."
The Chamber of Mines' chief executive, who is black, accepted a list of demands from the protesters, including nationalization of 60 percent of the country's lucrative mines. Bheki Sibaya later told reporters his industry group wanted to work with Malema to find solutions, including helping pay to educate black South Africans, but rejected the demands of nationalization to address the national economic crisis.
"This country solves its problems through negotiations," Sibaya added, saying mining companies were reaching goals to increase black ownership that emerged from talks with the government.
The protesters' statement said they targeted the mines because of the industry's role in South Africa's history of racist economic development and warned that "non concession to these demands will lead to social instability due to continued economic exclusion of the black majority."
Police and ANC Youth League marshals kept a close watch as the crowd of about 5,000 marched in 80-degree (27-degree Celsius) heat.
A quarter of the South African work force was unemployed even before the worldwide slowdown. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said Thursday unemployment stands at about 40 percent and much higher among young people.
Protester Tsholofelo Stephina Bester said the ANC must act faster to help the poor. Bester said that when she graduated from high school 10 years ago, she couldn't afford further studies to pursue her dream of becoming a social worker. She has been looking for steady work since. For the last two years, she has volunteered as an AIDS counselor, earning "pocket money" of 1,500 rand (about $190) a month. She and her 7-year-old daughter get by on that and welfare assistance.
"I want them not to promise without delivering," she said of ANC leaders. "I want them to deliver."
Another protester, 24-year-old Thabo Makole, said he remained an ANC supporter, but said the party in power since apartheid ended in 1994 should not be complacent.
"If they can't change their policies, there will be other parties to take their place," he said, citing an ANC splinter group, the Congress of the People, and the main opposition Democratic Alliance.
The DA on Thursday elected a black woman as its party leader, a significant step for a party trying to broaden its appeal beyond its white, liberal base.
In Johannesburg Thursday, Malema took the lead in the "economic freedom march" that headed from the mine owners' headquarters to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in the northern part of the city after the Chamber of Mines, then was to go on foot and by bus about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north to Pretoria, the seat of government. After an overnight vigil in a Pretoria sports stadium, Malema will present government officials with his demands, which include jobs, housing and other help for the poor, and nationalizing the mines.
ANC leaders say talk about nationalizing mines undermines investor confidence, while Malema calls them "cowards," accusing them of being afraid to take on powerful mine bosses. Malema also says whites remain privileged 17 years after the end of apartheid, and that big business largely remains in white hands.
Thursday's protest may be aimed as much at influencing ANC economic policy as showing older leaders Malema cannot be ignored. Next year, President Jacob Zuma faces an internal party leadership vote that could also determine who will be South Africa's next president. Malema helped put Zuma in power after turning against predecessor Thabo Mbeki.
The main ANC grudgingly accepted Malema's plans to march after asking Malema to tone down his anti-government rhetoric. He also pledged the march would be peaceful.
In August, pro-Malema demonstrators burned ANC flags and ran through the streets of downtown Johannesburg holding up flaming T-shirts bearing the image of President Zuma. That protest was sparked by the start of a disciplinary hearing for Malema and five other youth league officers accused of bringing the ANC into disrepute with calls for the ouster of the democratic government of neighboring Botswana. They face expulsion or suspension from the party in a process that has not yet concluded.
In a speech to parliament earlier this week, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said creating jobs, reducing poverty, building infrastructure and expanding the economy would be the work of many decades. In what many analysts said was a veiled reference to Malema's calls for nationalization, Gordhan said South Africa's mining industry, a key sector of the country's economy, had not benefited from a global boom in mineral prices, in part because of "uncertainty in the regulatory environment."
"Anger is not enough," Gordhan said. "We have to act, we have to be bold and farsighted in our resolve to move ahead with the reforms that will build a better future not just for ourselves but for generations to come."