According to the People’s Post, a large police contingent was present outside the government building where protesters vowed to stay until Premier Helen Zille addressed the crowd.
The protest then took a turn for the worse when some of the crowd broke away and began looting stalls and shops in St George’s Mall.
Shop owners and traders were forced to pack away their goods and stop trading in fear of being attacked by a mob of protesters.
A reporter hid in a food store as protesters trashed and looted shops and smashed windows. A shop owner was assaulted by the protesters.
Cape Times reporter Caryn Dolley said loud bangs might have been stun grenades and not petrol bombs. Police sirens could be heard in the city.
People in the CBD have been advised to not venture onto the streets.
The protesters appear to be protesting the provincial government.
Vendors on St George’s Mall are in shock after they were left to fend for themselves when a group of breakaway protesters tore through the mall on Wednesday afternoon. They are now asking where police and security guards were when they were being robbed.
Sitting breathless and traumatised in the foyer of Newspaper House, where a vendor had taken sanctuary with some of his salvaged inventory, he clutched his back as water dripped from his brow where a hard lump of ice had hit him.
Moments earlier he had been in the middle of an angry mob.
“Why are you still open?” they shouted at him and his brother, while throwing packets of Nik Naks, chocolates and torn cartons of cigarettes. He said for every item they threw, the mob snatched and fled with three times as much.
“When we tried to fight them off, they were throwing cans at us. They hit me in the back, the neck, legs… all over,” he said, wincing.
The vendor’s first attempts to escape from the looters were difficult. The 33-year-old is an amputee, who makes do with a rigid prosthetic leg. He slipped and fell twice among the pushing crowds.
“We asked the police before, should we pack up the stall, but they told us ‘no, no, it’s fine’,” he said. “Then when (the protesters) started running down here it was too late.”
He was not the only vendor who questioned how police had managed the protest. Frank Masina, who sells wooden sculptures and novelty chessboards from his stall, said there was no one to help him when the mob began destroying his goods.
“They were throwing my stuff around, smashing my chessboards and chess pieces.”
Brandishing a carved wooden cane, he described how he had desperately swung it at the looters.
“My shop is still standing but I have lost R3 500. I don’t understand. I pay to be here, but nobody looks after us.”
Other vendors said all they could do was stand by as their stalls were plundered. One vendor, who did not want to be named, said a group of looters grabbed handfuls of cigarettes, with some even lighting up as they casually walked away.
As protesters continued to rush through the mall, some shopkeepers picked up the steel poles that held up their stalls and brandished them as makeshift weapons.
One stall owner says his shop was raided three times in the space of one hour by running mobs.
Police officers stepped in the first time he was being looted, dispersing the angry crowd around his stall. But as soon as the police left, his stall was looted again.
According to the vendor, a police vehicle even passed his stall as it was being plundered, and the officers inside chose to ignore it.
“I lost R25 000 in merchandise,” he said.
He questioned why police seemed powerless to stop the looters, and why they had not anticipated the breakaway protest and warned vendors to pack up shop.
Police spokesman captain FC van Wyk said he was not going to comment on claims by vendors that they were left to fend for themselves.
“I will say this, I’m going to ask those shopkeepers to go to the nearest police station and lay charges so we can start investigating.”
The city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said the police were unable to handle the situation alone, and metro police and Law Enforcement were dispatched to help contain the breakaway protests.
“The breakaway march was illegal. Therefore police did not have enough staff to deal with it.”