PRETORIA: Buses were torched and roads were barricaded with rocks and burning tyres in South Africa's capital Pretoria Tuesday in riots sparked by upcoming nationwide municipal elections.
The unrest erupted late on Monday after factional disputes over the ruling African National Congress (ANC) choice for Pretoria mayor in the hotly-contested vote due on August 3.
Part of the country's main north-south highway, the N1, was closed off after protesters hurled stones at cars and buses, while the defence minister pledged to crack down on the violence.
Party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe blamed the unrest on "thuggery" driven by factionalism and patronage, but protesters accused the party of riding roughshod over their own choice for candidate.
Similar protests, on a smaller scale, broke out earlier this month in Durban in the home province of embattled President Jacob Zuma, signalling increasing factionalism within the party ahead of a vote which analysts believe could see the ANC lose power in some major cities.
The party is reeling under "factionalism, corruption and leadership without credibility", said political analyst and author Prince Mashele.
The ANC of former president and liberation icon Nelson Mandela is facing a tough test in the August elections after sweeping to power in elections that ended apartheid in 1994.
Zuma has faced months of criticism and growing calls for him to step down after a series of corruption scandals as the country battles falling economic growth and record unemployment.
The party has split into factions, with some Mandela-era leaders joining the chorus of opposition to Zuma, saying he has stripped the party of the moral credibility it had during the struggle against apartheid.
The local elections touch a raw nerve, dealing with issues such as housing and water and sewage services in a country where many feel they have not benefited as they should have from the end of white minority domination.
'Anarchists, hooligans and gangsters'
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula stepped in Tuesday to issue a warning to the protesters.
"Here is a capital city and we are not going to allow anarchists, hooligans and gangsters to take over maybe what is a legitimate concern of the communities and... turn it into a state of anarchy," she told a news conference.
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said that 19 buses belonging to a state-owned transport firm were burnt on Monday.
"The buses were set alight yesterday afternoon on their way to the depot and drivers had to flee for their safety," she said in a statement.
An AFP photographer saw a truck and a bus on fire in Pretoria's Atteridgeville township Tuesday as protesters continued to vent their anger over a mayoral candidate they say was imposed on them by the national party leadership.
Police said they were investigating a case of murder, along with malicious damage to property and intimidation.
Security Minister David Mahlobo confirmed the death of an ANC supporter who was reportedly shot during an ANC party gathering in Pretoria on Sunday. The activist later died in hospital.
Several deaths attributed to factionalism within the ANC have been reported from around the country in the run-up to the elections.
In a bid to overcome deep local divisions arising from the three proposed candidates for Pretoria mayor, the ANC national leadership named its own candidate, Thoko Didiza.
But some protesters complained that although she lives in Pretoria she is an outsider as she hails from Durban, a port city in the east of the country.
Pretoria resident Philemon Pholoma said the protesters were ANC members "fighting about the mayor".
"They are saying they don't want that woman," Pholoma told AFP.