/ 25 October 2016

Save South Africa: Whose protest is it anyway?

Trevor Manuel's latest bugbear is the "short termism" of modern politics.
Trevor Manuel is expected to give evidence relating to Fikile Mbalula’s 2010 appointment as sports minister, which Manuel has publicly suggested the controversial Gupta brothers had influence over. (Paul Botes/M&G)

A civil society campaign is calling for President Zuma’s resignation and firmly backing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan as he prepares to head to court on November 2. Save South Africa has been building its momentum, but will it deliver?

For some time, there have been ANC veterans who have spoken out against President Zuma’s leadership. Barbara Hogan dropped the mic at a mosque in Cape Town after she encouraged ANC members to demand Zuma’s resignation, while Ahmad Kathrada penned an open letter saying an end to Zuma’s presidency would be an end to the “crisis of confidence in the country”. Sipho Pityana delivered an emotional eulogy at the funeral of Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile, where he too spoke powerfully against the president.

“We say we are against corruption yet at every turn we are falling over each other trying to steal from the poor. When you drove here you drove past the village of Ngqele. When Rev Stofile was in office he did not give it special treatment. He did not build a palace worth over R200-million amidst a sea of poverty,” Pityana said at the time.

He asked that Zuma step down, and the message he delivered was perhaps one of the catalysts for the Save South Africa campaign he is now leading. Hogan and former finance minister Trevor Manuel are on the Save South Africa steering committee, and a host of significant organisations have backed the group, including Section 27, Lawyers for Human Rights, Corruption Watch and religious organisations such as the Anglican Church.

The plan of action
On November 2 – the date which Pravin Gordhan is set to appear at the North Gauteng High Court on charges of fraud, Save South Africa will release its declaration and founding principles. On the same day, it will host a People’s Assembly Against State Capture.

“The Save South Africa campaign is calling on all South Africans to unite behind that great symbol of our nation, the National Flag, to a ‘People’s Assembly Against State Capture’ in Pretoria on November 2 to make their voices heard against attempts to loot the country’s resources,” a statement from Save South Africa said

The assembly is set to take place outside the high court in Pretoria, where Gordhan will appear. While the campaign has generated strong support, questions remain about who will be participating come November , if Save South Africa is influential enough to back its demands, or if it’s simply another #ZumaMustFall.

Mass protest or middle-class protest?
At the end of last year, groups of protesters banded together under #ZumaMustFall demanding, like Save South Africa, that President Zuma steps down.

The #ZumaMustFall campaign received widespread criticism because protesters were largely white, middle class, and out of touch with poor black people. Case in point: a photo went viral of a woman wearing a Mandela T-shirt meditating amongst protesters.

In an interview with Pityana, Power FM’s Iman Rappetti asked the Save South Africa leader about his campaign’s focus to save the ANC or to save the country and alleviate the impact on poor South Africans. Pityana’s response was that the country comes before the ANC and South Africans must be loyal to the country before the ANC.

“South Africans have to show their loyalty to the country even if they have to stand against their own political parties,” Pityana said.

But as it stands, the Save South Africa campaign is largely built on the South African middle-class intelligentsia, particularly of ANC stalwarts. Loyalty within the ANC is almost sacrosanct, and the chorus of ANC voices speaking out against the party’s leadrship, which recently include ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, have shed light on how deep the crisis of leadership runs in South Africa.

Equally important, however, is mass protest. If the demand is the president’s resignation, then the protest must push against the country’s pressure points. Save South Africa have urged that all South Africans, including business and labour, stand with them on the picket lines, but whether it will be a reality remains to be seen.

It’s been a year when citizens, stalwarts and ANC members themselves have shunned the Zuma presidency. As we edge closer to the end of 2016, South Africa could find itself either a step ahead from where the country stood in 2015, or it could witness another protest a la #ZumaMustFall.