South Africa

Explainer: Day of Action against Zuma – what you need to know

Friday April 7 will see protests take place across the country against President Jacob Zuma, who has come under increasing fire for his poor leadership and links to the Gupta family, with outrage increasing since his Cabinet reshuffle last week. GREG NICOLSON attempts to answer your protest questions.

Who will be marching and where?

The two most prominent demonstrations on Friday will be in Gauteng. Civil society groups plan to march to the Union Buildings in Tshwane and the DA will march to Mary Fitzgerald Square in Johannesburg.

The Tshwane demonstration, dubbed the “People’s March” by organisers, will begin at 10:00 in Church Square, with entertainment and speeches, before it proceeds to the Union Buildings at 12:00. Organisers say it’s a non-sectarian protest and if you “come in peace” you’re welcome. It’s been backed by Save SA, OUTA, Section 27, Treatment Action Campaign, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Corruption Watch, Fedusa, the SACP, and the National Religious Leaders’ Council, among others. The demand: “Zuma must go!” There will be buses running from a number of townships to the event and those driving can park and get buses from Caledonian Stadium. Save SA organiser Themba Masango said he expected at least 5,000 people in Tshwane.

The DA has called on South Africans, “regardless of political affiliation”, to gather in Johannesburg at the Westgate Transport Hub at 10:00 and march to Mary Fitzgerald Square. It will be led by party leader Mmusi Maimane. The plan was to march to the ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, but after threats of violence from ANC structures the party amended the route. The DA will also host events in all provinces except Limpopo, according to its website. It wants to “send a loud and clear message to Jacob Zuma that his time to go is now”.

#BlackMonday noted a number of other events taking place on Friday. The group says it was “created by ordinary concerned citizens” but it’s unclear who those citizens are. It has been criticised for selectively protesting and representing white South Africans. On Friday people should “unite behind their chosen cause”, it said. Events in Ekurhuleni have been planned by Edenvale: Save Our Country SA and in Johannesburg by Chains4Change. There’s even a demonstration planned at the South African consulate in New York.

I want to go, but will it be dangerous?

There are two risks. Police might crack down on demonstrations that don’t have permits and ANC supporters could confront marchers to defend Zuma. Police have also warned protest organisers to ensure the demonstrations are peaceful, and both major marches say they will have a sufficient number of marshalls.

The DA march has been approved and police will be present. The party, however, this week laid criminal charges against an ANC member who spoke at a rally in Germiston warning the ANC would be “waiting for Mmusi with sjamboks and all other weapons”. uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) leader Kebby Maphatsoe said 600 members – said to be “combat-ready” – will be brought from KwaZulu-Natal to protect Luthuli House.

Maphatsoe said they will only react if the DA approaches ANC headquarters, which it has no plans of doing. With both parties highly charged and in close proximity, there’s always a risk of clashes. When the DA tried to march on Luthuli House in 2014, ANC supporters blocked the route, leading to running battles with police. On Thursday, the ANC called for calm. “We condemn in the harshest possible terms reports of people seeking to take up arms in the name of the ANC. Such behaviour has no place in a democratic society.”

It’s still tense. On Wednesday, an occupation of Church Square in Tshwane was allegedly disrupted by ANC supporters who intimidated civil society members camping out ahead of Friday’s march and burnt their banners.

Meanwhile, eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede on Thursday said the march planned in Durban amounted to treason and demonstrators would be arrested. “This march is uncalled for and I will tell the community to refrain from these nasty marches‚” she said in a radio interview. Later, she claimed a permit to march had not been issued and non-approved demonstrators would be arrested.

Marches have been approved, however, in Johannesburg, Tshwane and eThekwini. It’s unlikely police will arrest anyone, unless the demonstrations become violent. Given the groups organising the protests, it seems unlikely, but police might be forced to intervene if ANC supporters and the anti-Zuma groups clash.

Traffic will, however, be disrupted and it’s recommended drivers avoid areas like the Johannesburg and Tshwane CBDs.

Are the demonstrations about protecting the interests of rich whites?

Perhaps the most contentious issue is who the protests will represent and why. Will they entrench race and class privileges or are they legitimate attempts to demand a better life for all South Africans?

White South Africans are more likely to hit the picket lines when Zuma is on the chopping block. Think #ZumaMustFall and #BlackMonday. Daily Vox’s Mohammed Jameel Abdulla this week asked where whites were on issues like Marikana and the education and health crises in the Eastern Cape? “While we do stand against President Zuma and his brazen disregard for our lives and the lives of South Africa’s poorest and most marginalised, we will continue to struggle for South Africa and it will not be with you. In the end, we will have to save SA from you too.”

Responding to the sentiment, in Daily Maverick Rebecca Mqamelo said the double standards of whites have been exposed but the backlash against this week’s protests fails to prove why people shouldn’t join the demonstrations. “There can be no consensus on land, education, or any other issue if we cannot even agree to act when our president so blatantly sells his country into the hands of the elite.”

“I’m not white, I’m here,” said the SACP’s second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila in Pretoria as the demonstration built on the eve of the protests. The SACP, which has called for Zuma’s removal, as has Cosatu, who discouraged members from taking part in Friday’s action, will take part in the Pretoria protests. “The Guptas are not stealing from white people. They are stealing from the public purse,” said Mapaila, accusing the family of a propaganda campaign linking the protests to imperialists.

Phumzile van Damme, DA spokesperson, said it’s incorrect to assume the demonstrations would represent whites or elites. She said there’s been wide interest and the party expects to see “all South Africans from all walks of life”.

The protests include an amalgamation of interests. There will be those who believe Zuma must be removed if the country can tackle its fundamental challenges, those mostly concerned about middle-class and elite interests angered over Zuma’s effect on the economy, those who see protesting against the president as a chance to raise the concerns of whites, and those who have an interest in challenging the president ahead of the ANC’s elective congress later this year. Given the range of organisations involved and question over how many individuals might protest, it’s difficult to tell which way it will sway.

I have things to do on Friday. Will there be a national shutdown?

There have been calls on social media for a national shutdown – for employers to close shop, employees to skip work, students to avoid school, and citizens to block the streets. Some businesses might close; some people might heed the call, but there’s no indication of a nationwide shutdown.

“Many businesses have indicated they will be giving their staff the day off, while others will sign leave forms for all who wish to participate in this important show of solidarity,” said Wayne Duvenage, from OUTA. Duvenage wouldn’t name companies supporting the protest action but said a lot of businesses, especially smaller companies, would operate on a skeleton staff on Friday. Others supported employees joining the demonstrations during the lunch hour. “It’s very, very clear the energy coming out of the business world is supportive,” he claimed.

A survey from the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry found “nearly 62%” of businesses polled were in favour of closing on Friday in protest against Zuma’s recent Cabinet reshuffle. Some companies have indicated they would let employees take a half-day, but others have sent directives to say it’s a normal workday and staff will face consequences for skipping work.

Trade union federations Cosatu, Fedusa, and Zwelinzima Vavi’s new organisation, Saftu, have said they will not take part in shutting down businesses. The country’s largest union, Numsa, won’t either.

In a statement, the government said Friday is a normal working day: “The social media messages are sent to bring the image of South Africa into disrepute, to disturb the economy and to create the impression of disorder and fear in communities.”

Lisa Seftel, City of Johannesburg executive director for transport, said there’s been no notification that Metrobus or Rea Vaya drivers won’t provide public transportation services. “There’s a chance some of our buses will be delayed or deviated,” she said. There have been calls for people to stop public transport services, which Seftel said the city has no control over.

SA National Taxi Council president Philip Taaibosch said taxi services are planned to proceed as usual. “We are going to service protesters and non-protesters.”

Is there even a point to all this? Zuma always survives and we have other issues like unemployment, poverty, land, health, racism, etc. etc. etc. to deal with?

“The independence of the country is at stake,” said the SACP’s Mapaila.

“I think we just have to keep pushing,” said Van Damme from the DA. She said despite potential apathy over Zuma’s continued ability to survive scandal, he can’t be allowed to remain leader of the country.

Earlier this week, Save SA said, “Zuma has violated the Constitution. He has facilitated corruption. He has allowed the Guptas to put their cronies in place to run our government. His reckless actions have triggered a downgrade by two ratings agencies, causing massing long-term damage to the South African economy.”

Save SA leaders like Mark Heywood will on Friday make the link between political leadership and services for South Africans.

As the ANC gave Zuma a slight reprieve this week, it’s unlikely Friday’s marches will lead to his dethronement, but if they’re big enough, and actually representative of black South Africans, they might further the calls for his removal. DM

Photo: Police officers patrol the streets during violent service delivery protests in Bekkersdal, west of Johannesburg October 25, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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