Vodacom Shuts Stores Trashed by Supporters of the EFF

(Bloomberg) -- Vodacom Group Ltd. is keeping some of its South African franchise stores shut after members of opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters vandalized outlets in protest of an image of their leaders at an event hosted by the wireless carrier.

In one incident, at its Mall of The North franchise store, women were assaulted and goods stolen, the company said in an email. The EFF may have been responding to an image used by Corruption Watch Chairman Mavuso Msimang, Vodacom said, in which he depicted an image of the party’s leaders Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu, as “abusers of democracy” during a keynote address at an awards ceremony.

“Vodacom respects the right of every South African to freedom of expression and to hold legal and peaceful protests, but condemns any form of violent behavior,” the mobile-phone operator said in emailed comments on Monday. “Vodacom is against discrimination and bigotry in all their manifestations.”

Images on Twitter showed people dressed in the EFF’s signature red berets and clothing entering stores or the damage caused in the aftermath of their leaving.

“The EFF is increasingly showing a flagrant disrespect for the freedom of expression, a central tenet of democracy,” Msimang said in an opinion piece posted on the Daily Maverick Web site of the Daily Maverick. “Vodacom officials had no prior knowledge of the subject matter of my talk.”

The EFF is known for being involved in scuffles in parliament with the ruling African National Congress and other opposition parties.

“There has been no official mandate, request or statement from the EFF to go to Vodacom shops and protest,” said Jossey Buthane, EFF Secretary in the Limpopo province. “This is being done independently by unhappy South Africans. We do understand that the Vodacom stores are owned by individual franchisees, and would therefore look for alternative recourse in this matter.”

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