Zuma must fall (before brunch)

Thousands of Johannesburg protesters march across the Mandela bridge, demanding the president’s resignation. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Thousands of Johannesburg protesters march across the Mandela bridge, demanding the president’s resignation. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

ZumaMustFall is what protesters in several cities insisted on Wednesday – and if he does not, they have vowed to continue their protests into 2016. But even though they turned out in their thousands – short notice and a lack of centralised planning notwithstanding – their commitment on the day did not always bode well for the campaign’s ongoing momentum.

“This must be the beginning; this is about us taking back our country. We cannot stand by while our country is being rot[ted] by corruption,” said Msizi Cele as he protested outside Parliament.

Later in the day, however, while speakers were still addressing a crowd in the Company’s Garden in the Cape Town city centre, some people started to slip away for coffee and brunch. In a restaurant across the street, large #ZumaMustFall placards stood propped up behind patrons’ chairs.

“We miss [Nelson] Mandela and we are here to defend his legacy, which is being tarnished by [Jacob] Zuma and his enablers in the ANC,” said Melville resident Thami Ndlovu during a simultaneous protest in Johannesburg.

The placards on display were similarly fiery (and sometimes below the belt): “Zuma laughs while we cry”, “Stop playing monopoly with our money”, “Zu ma se moer”, “After 2 Zuma terms the nation needs a shower” and “Jacob Zuma please do us all a favour and fuck off. PS: take the Guptas with you.”

But the show was stolen by a male demonstrator decked out in a colourful clown costume, including over-the-top make-up, meandering through the crowd while strumming tunes on his guitar. Identifying himself only as Sakhumzi, he likened himself to the court jesters of old who helped bring some comic relief in the midst of seriousness.

In Cape Town, a city well acquainted with controversial protests, sometimes involving human excrement, there were no struggle songs sung and there was no dancing through the streets. Instead, the atmosphere was reminiscent of when crowds took to the streets during the 2010 World Cup, with more laughter than anger rippling through the group.

Yet there were also signs of strong resolve beneath the playful surface.

Parliament – and the ANC in particular – will have to brace itself for protests during the State of the Nation address come February if Zuma is not fired by then, former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned in Johannesburg, where he was at the forefront of the march.

In Cape Town the buildings told their own story: “#ZumaMustFall” read the graffiti on a wall a few kilometres away from the protest – a message also spray-painted at the visitors’ entrance to Parliament.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography.
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