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Zuma booing not a crisis in our democracy, says Maharaj

Deshnee Subramany

Mac Maharaj has brushed off the heckling of President Jacob Zuma by sections of the crowd at Nelson Mandela's memorial, saying it was over quickly.

President Jacob Zuma speaking at Nelson Mandela's memorial. (Oupa Nkosi)

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj has shrugged off the booing President Jacob Zuma received at the memorial for Nelson Mandela.

On Tuesday, Zuma was jeered at by groups in the crowd that gathered for Mandela's memorial at FNB Stadium.

But while thousands cheered loudly when US President Barack Obama arrived and later made his moving speech,  Zuma received a less welcoming reception from some in the crowd.  They booed when he arrived, as well as when he was spotted on the big screens in the stadium and when he too took to the podium to address  mourners.

In an interview with Talk Radio 702's Udo Carelse, Maharaj scoffed after the host asked if the presidency was embarrassed by the crowd's reaction.

"It passed – in four minutes it was over, and it didn't happen again," he said. "We will not take a small event and make it into a crisis in our democracy."

Taking advantage
​Maharaj said the sounds came from a "small part" of the crowd who wanted to take advantage of "an international stage".

But he maintained that Zuma remained a popular leader.

"It was out of keeping with the decorum of the event, which was not a party political event ... I think it was a small part of people in the stands, and I think when Zuma stood to speak he was enthusiastically received," he said.

The spokesperson said the response from the audience was an aspect of a participatory democracy, but the nature of democracy changed. He added that people would learn we no longer "have to fight things through confrontation. Now we have a set of rules and a playing field" to settle disputes. "That's how we will make a better South Africa," he said.

When asked by Carelse if he did not think the booing could have been from people disappointed with recently contentious issues such as Nkandla and e-tolls, Maharaj neatly avoided dealing with the president's homestead and focused on the tolling project that recently went live.

"This is a democracy. E-tolling was decided upon democratically by an elected Parliament. It went through four courts," he explained. "We are in danger of undermining the current democracy we fought for."


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