The DA vowed to “step up” efforts to have Former President Jacob Zuma impeached. Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane has said that the slogan should be #ZumaMustGo.
History will remember a sentence, a rallying cry, a catchphrase, a magic incantation, a hashtag, as the straw that broke the camel’s back and achieved the removal of Jacob Zuma from Presidency. That may be #ZumaMustGo but I have my doubts. In its every previous incarnation – as petitions, as every call for him to step down – #ZumaMustGo has failed. It can be recycled term after term, but I don’t see it succeeding.
Every time #ZumaMustGo has “stepped up” its efforts, a distraction has come along to dilute its power. That distraction has usually been a death that’s captured media attention. It is easy enough for the ANC to dip into South Africa’s bag of hideous crimes or tragic passings, pull one up into media attention (which it controls a significant portion of), and viola! Instant distraction. It’s just one tragedy that needs highlighting; as that story snowballs and distracts everyone, Zuma’s clean-up team works overtime and they get better at it each time. The media’s ability to amplify #ZumaMustGo is thusly diverted to covering the other story, and #ZumaMustGo falls again as a tired slogan.
The fact that #ZumaMustGo keeps coming back as an on-the-ground campaign shows that we know, though cannot explain, that whatever people shout on the ground can override what happens in Parliament. This is crucial to the success of #ZumaMustGo because left to its own devices, Parliament is rigged to keep Zuma in power. But even then, #ZumaMustGo has a fatal flaw: while its existence as a slogan – the fact that someone goes through the trouble of thinking one up – is proof that slogans shape discourse, shapes history, #ZumaMustGo does not tap into this power: it sends the decisive power right back to “them”. “Zuma must go”, the people say. But when? And who decides when? #ZumaMustGo leaves it to somebody else to get him to go. And that somebody else will decide when another round of investigations is done, or when another report is pooh-poohed.
In a stroke of unparalleled originality, Mmusi Maimane gave us a slogan that was created within the limitations he has to work within as a member of the establishment. He didn’t realize that in instances like these, he cannot be within and outside the establishment at the same time. The message on the ground is not for politicians, or media, or anyone else within these establishments to determine. It has never been. When everything aligns the way it has aligned, the people outside the establishment must find the slogan that shapes history, and they must thrust it into parliament, media and national discourse. It has never been for the people within the establishment to start those rallying cries or stir the crowds. It is not their place, and if they try to make it their place then at best, they simply give a slogan that traps everyone else in the same limitations that they experience as process-bound beaurocracies. They either cannot or are not allowed to have one original thought. #ZumaMustGo might end up serving to keep him in power for another full term.
WE the people can legally work around, beneath, above and beside the establishment. The establishment cannot think around, beneath, above and beside itself, let alone work around, beneath, above and beside itself. The DA is aware that another slogan has been created outside the establishment, that is #ZumasResigned; they’re aware of its offshoot, #FormerPresidentJacobZuma. They are aware that these slogans, and the activism behind them, may just be scandalous enough to outwit the ANC’s distraction strategies by capturing, and holding, media attention for a much longer time than #ZumaMustGo. The popularity of #ZumasResigned exploded last week, impacting more than half a million people within its first few days.
#ZumaMustGo is familiar, banal, predictable and safe.
#ZumasResigned is unsettling. #FormerPresidentJacobZuma is shocking. That makes it more effective.
If our collective psychological acknowledgement of Zuma as president is the chicken’s head, and its body is the legal, political and ambassadorial technicalities attendant to that head; that is, all the systemic acknowledgement that Zuma is president, then #ZumasResigned and #FormerPresidentJacobZuma are a chop off of the head. The body is doomed. It we believe, declare and spread that Zuma has resigned because we have resigned him as the people, the “body” of parliamentary decisions, investigations, tribunals, incestuously intra-party, inter-ministerial task teams, will be as good as a headless chicken. They will release press statements exonerating him to the public but the public will reply, “He has resigned, past tense”. It will force them into a corner or a collapse.
But #Zuma must go doesn’t strike at this head. It strikes at the same invulnerable parts it’s struck at before. Is that the cry that’s going to dethrone Zuma? I don’t know. It hasn’t worked before; why try it again? Someone read #ZumasResigned and said,
“I think I feel the way it’s meant to make me feel: I think the whole concept is incredulous and slightly absurd, yet a very healthy part of me is thinking ‘what if’? See, the way I see it, it’s not about a call to arms, a clear directorate or a mission statement; it’s powerful enough when people simply start thinking ‘but what if…’ It questions the status quo without direct, decide A or B intent. It gives people the idea to toy with about how much power they have as an individual. I think it’s superbly brilliant.”
When the processes have failed, you need a slogan that can evoke that feeling. The DA is very good at respecting the process but due to its nature as an establishment, it cannot be the source of slogans that shape discourse and history. If #ZumaMustGo fails, as I think it will, it will soon become a point of resentment with the DA’s electorate. And already the cracks are showing – people are asking, “But when?” It’s not a political party’s job to create these slogans; it’s a political party’s job to very carefully assimilate slogans created on the ground without worrying about who gets credit for creating them.
Yet the DA, knowing #ZumasResigned – knowing that such a slogan cannot coexist or co-function with another that presupposes that Zuma is still in power, such as #ZumaMustGo – went and rehashed the old one again. Which is really not another, but the same impotent message they’ve been playing for years.
It is not their place to solve the Zuma problem. Any pressure they feel to resolve it themselves is entirely misplaced. It’s the people’s job to outsmart Zuma, not the opposition party’s – for it can only work within the constraints imposed by politics. WE the people can work within the Constitution but also beyond, behind, beneath and beside the ruling and opposition parties.
The dreadful thing with #ZumaMustGo is that it gives you a feeling of having exercised power by spreading the hashtag. Which is true – you have exercised your power in hitting the ball back into Zuma’s court so he may decide when he goes. You have validated and entrenched the nonexistence of that which you want. The DA, with its conventional wisdom, is trapped in a system that it is powerless to use to impeach Zuma.
South Africans. Get clear about what’s happening.
If you say #ZumaMustGo, he will – but once he’s finished his term and wrecked this country because we’ll still be playing his game by his rules.
If you say #ZumasResigned it’s a complete game-changer. The world will take notice.
#ZumasResigned – #FormerPresidentJacobZuma