So the nation rose up against the dictatorial President Jacob Zuma and forced him to change his mind about dumping a highly respected finance minister and replacing him with a political nonentity who would, obviously, lack the strength to block deals that might compromise fiscal probity.
Or, alternatively, the ANC’s mandarins got a big shock when Zuma dumped Nhlanhla Nene, so they quickly assembled to confront him about it and made him backtrack.
Or they did so, semi-independently, but with the support of the big bankers and megabusiness people who could explain authoritatively to the president how his unilateral action had slashed billions of rands in value off the banking share index and sent the rand into freefall.
Or, yet again, if we follow the message put out by ANC spokesperson Jesse Duarte, Zuma took the weekend to do some serious reflection and rethought his plans and, having thought it all through very carefully, saw that the best thing to do was to put former finance minister Pravin Gordhan back in that position to calm everyone down.
In reality, it was probably a combination of all the above, excepting perhaps what was proposed by Duarte. She doesn’t convince because few observers are ready to believe the president gave thoughtful consideration to the broader effects of his decision to dump Nene in the first place, or can imagine that someone who is clearly financially challenged himself is able to compute the likely effects of such a decision.
That and the fact that it’s difficult generally to believe what Duarte says in matters like these because she is so blatantly a party hack. As writer Tom Eaton noted online, it was as though Zuma shot South Africa in the foot and then the ANC called a press conference to tell us how neat the hole was.
But the ANC mandarins and the money guys did give Zuma a little talking-to. The nation did rise up, or at least that part of the nation who know what a ratings downgrade is, who know what it means if your interest payments rise dramatically, or if you have to pay for large amounts of imported maize in rands worth so much less than they were a week ago.
That means, increasingly, as South Africa’s economy clings to the cliff edge, more and more South Africans learn this stuff every day, and as it does so does their anger at how Zuma was willing to cut the economy off at the knees without even giving an explanation.
These South Africans tweeted, Facebooked and gathered in places like Nelson Mandela Bridge and marched across cities. Unfortunately, they looked mostly white, and some of the comments attached to the #ZumaMustFall tag were downright racist.
This enabled government spokespeople such as Mayihlome Tshwete to tweet that such protests, as a whole, were “anti-majoritarian” – a bit rich coming from someone whose advertised taste in brandy is decidedly minoritarian. But it will be a key part of the ANC’s defence of Zuma in the near future – that and the notion that any protest is “anti-ANC”.
Party ideologues will try to make the protests look as though they are being driven by privileged whites who don’t want to give up their riches.
Those making a serious protest need to make sure they stick to the issue, that the movement isn’t hijacked by racists, and that the groundswell against corruption and unaccountability keeps growing.