A #ZumaMustFall march to the Union Buildings is being organised for the 16th of December.
The 16th of December is a public holiday four days from today.
One of two things will happen. The first is that the march will achieve its goals. As one of my friends has pointed out, whoever organised the march probably thought there would be a better turnout on the day because it is a holiday. It could make a difference and I hope it does.
But that could work against the protest.
The Office of the President, having heard that the march is coming (with more than four days’ warning) will find an emergency for Jacob Zuma to attend to either halfway across the country. There will be skeletal staff at the Union Buildings and Luthuli House. This is, after all, a public holiday in December. It’s easy to explain away the presence of no more than security and admin.
So thousands of marchers will make an appearance. It will be a terrific show of solidarity and commitment on their part. And because ours is a participatory government that engages its citizens, a delegation from the ruling party or the government will come out to meet the marchers, listen and nod thoughtfully at what they have to say, and promise to get a response from the Office of the President as soon as possible. Or set up a task team.
By the end of the day the crowd would have dissipated, the march would have lost momentum and the holiday would be over.
The next day, a much smaller crowd will re-appear but the diminished size of the protest will be an indication that much of it was an anger-venting exercise, that the protesters have been heard and that the Presidency is free to take its time coming up with that promised response to demands that Jacob Zuma step down. In other words, it will be back to business as usual. If I’m correct about this second scenario, Zuma’s direct response will be that he never made himself president but was deployed by the party which, in turn, was elected by South Africans.
His Office’s response will be something along the lines of:
“Concerning the removal of Nhlanhla Nene from the Finance portfolio, Honourable President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma has the constitutional right to appoint and dismiss ministers as he sees fit. As indicated previously through media, Mr Nene was not fired but moved to a more strategic position. Furthermore, there has been no change to fiscal policy as such and therefore no need to panic.
“Concerning the request that the President must be impeached: such an action would be absolutely reckless in light of recent changes in our place in the global economy. It would as be indefensible both politically and towards President Zuma himself. Until a court case can find him guilty of a crime that warrants dismissal, or the National Assembly pass a vote of no confidence in him, or the ruling party recall him, or the electorate vote for a different party, the demand for his removal, forwarded by however many marchers on the 16th, cannot override the expressed wishes of 11 million voters. With all due respect, the marchers could have been anyone from anywhere. We have to take our mandate from registered South African voters. To do otherwise would be to neglect our duties, which is precisely the thing we’re being accused of doing.
“We will take this opportunity to remind everybody that anyone who wishes to express discontent is free to do so through their parliamentarian or other existing government structures and channels.
“We thank the citizens and the marchers who appeared on the 16th for exercising and being concerned with the protection and sustenance of their democratic constitutional rights. We wish everyone a safe and prosperous festive season and we look forward to continued engagement in the new year. Thank you.”
The media will broadcast the response; on social media, Zuma’s supporters will try to whip up a non-existent warm, fuzzy contentment with the response, dignifying it as far as possible. Twitter and Facebook will go from a smugly hopeful, “They must have heard the dissatisfaction of all those marchers!” to losing its marbles and trending #ZumaMustFall like there’s no tomorrow.
Come New Years Eve, Jacob Zuma will still be president and something will happen to distract everyone from #ZumaMustFall. The New Age and SABC will carry that story instead until it becomes the new shiny thing.
Looking at these two possibilities, I have to wonder: what is so important on the working weekdays before the 16th that we have to wait for this far-off Public Holiday? Work? The money being made on the preceding workdays is losing value by the hour. What that means is that by the time the drought takes its toll, the salary we’re devoutly going to work for would have lost the value needed to buy the imported foodstuff we’ll need to live off of. We’re being squeezed into a trap with life-or-death consequences, and we cannot rely on existing legal structures to rescue us because by their nature, they follow processes and those (if the law is to have any meaning at all) take time. That’s why the DA lives in court.
Zuma will get away with everything he’s doing not because the country isn’t angry but because the country doesn’t know how to say: “Let’s go and occupy Union Buildings or Parliament or the nearest City Hall, now.” Our country doesn’t know how to have a proper tax revolt that involves corporations’ PAYE and individual TV licences and etolls. Zuma will get away with everything he’s doing because until anger translates into quick, organised action, it is just that – gatvol hashtags and indignant write-ups. He’ll be free to act unilaterally unless and until we respond through our decisive action.
The tragedy is that the opportunity is there. There are people within the ANC and government that are dying for an episode of meaningful protest action; that will trigger a domino effect of other actions that will make Zuma’s removal a greater likelihood.
The problem, as I see it, is that the people who now could be protesting, spent so much time protected by the system that they never had to learn the value of impolitely demanding immediate change by bringing the establishment to its knees. The tenderpreneurship faction that supports Zuma is more resourceful than we give it credit for, and if protest is just limited to what’s legally permitted it will not be effective. I’ve given the rationale for civil disobedience before but we’ve seen proof for it twice; first, in the protest that led to the fall of apartheid, and after that, in the #FeesMustFall campaign.
The #FeesMustFall protest was peaceful and well-organised. But it was also too sudden to be legal. The Powers-That-Be were never ready for it. That’s why it achieved results. It took them off guard.
I am going to join the march on the 16th but personally, I would have much preferred one sooner and on a working weekday. Anything of value requires sacrifice, and I am not talking about submitting a leave form to get time off at work but simply downing tools and strategically occupying a place that could bring a major city to a sudden standstill.
On a working weekday.
I wish our protest on the 16th the best of luck and hope that scenario two is wrong.
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex
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