In one of South Africa’s stranger public holiday commemorations on Wednesday, thousands gathered in various cities to participate in #ZumaMustFall marches, while President Jacob Zuma himself called for people not to exaggerate the country’s problems for fear of being considered “funny”.
“We exaggerate our problems and make people think that South Africans are funny people; whilst in reality people envy to be South Africans,” he said during an address celebrating Reconciliation Day at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth.
Zuma faced a backlash after he announced last week that he was replacing Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene with ANC MP Des van Rooyen. There was a public outcry and calls for Zuma to be recalled over the move, which saw the rand reach record lows. Four days after the announcement Zuma backtracked, replacing Van Rooyen with Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, which saw the rand recover somewhat.
On Wednesday, towards the end of a length speech delivered to a relatively sparse crowd – Zuma seemed to deviate from his notes, in order to urge religious, political and traditional organisations to “educate the society” to understand the difference between the apartheid government and the democratic version over which he currently ruled.
“The kind of authority we have now is not the authority of the oppressor; it is our authority, our own government.”
Banner on Table Mountain
As such, he said, while during apartheid, part of the struggle was to disrupt the government – “making apartheid unworkable – we cannot repeat the same methods that we used then, to our own government”.
He said that speaking about this difference “will talk to our minds, our hearts our souls of whether South Africa is doing right or not.”
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters – who gathered at Johannesburg’s Nelson Mandela Bridge, the Union Building in Pretoria and outside Parliament and the Company Gardens in Cape Town – seemed to provide their own answer to that question.
From sad clown dress up, hand-made shower heads and posters proclaiming “Zoom off Zuma”, “Die Keiser is Kaal” [The emperor is naked] and “Thanks for your service Mr Zuma. Now please retire to Nkandle [sic]. Our gift to you”, South Africans got creative – and biting – in order to express their grievances.
In Cape Town, Table Mountain and the Louis Botha statue in front of Parliament were adorned with #ZumaMustFall banners.
However, feelings appeared mixed on the success of the protests.
While some were concerned that the march seemed to be dominated by the middle class – a perception perhaps enhanced by protesters like an elderly couple who painted their #zumamustfall on a purple yoga mat – others felt that it had been a day in which citizens united to declare that, as Zwelimzima Vavi put it, they were “gatvol” with the current president.
“Zuma, you have failed the poor. You have failed the working class. You have failed the South Africans who have the brains to think independently,” the former Cosatu leader told the Johannesburg crowd.
“He has disgraced our country”
Asked who he would like to replace Zuma, one protester in Pretoria declared a preference for “Cyril. Or Vusi [sic] Maimane”, – clearly, just a slip of the tongue away from Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane’s name.
Meanwhile, in the Mother City, the father of 10-year-old Joseph – who sported a mop of spikey blonde hair and a home-made “EFF” red-branded T-shirt – told a News24 journalist that his son had rebelled against him when he had tried to convince him that EFF leader Julius Malema was “just as corrupt”, and had insisted on making his fashion statement.
As the march in Pretoria began to wrap up, protester Martin Mokoena remained adamant that, although he was leaving the march, the struggle was not over.
“We will continue with the marches until Zuma is removed. He has disgraced our country and has destroyed our economy. Zuma must fall,” he proclaimed.
Reconciliation Day was made a public holiday following the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994.
December 16 marks both the Battle of Blood River in 1838 between Zulu and Voortrekker groupings, as well as the establishment of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961.