Friday, 07 April 2017, South Africans regardless of race, age and religious background, were united across the country marching and singing with one voice calling on President Jacob Zuma step down. It was a show of unity in the midst of diversity.
These has been brought to the fore by the events of the last two weeks , Precipitated by President Jacob Zuma’s recent Cabinet reshuffle, that have brought matters to a head in our country.
Two ratings agencies have downgraded South Africa to "junk status" – which is likely to lead to more indebtedness and a rising cost of living for citizens. Divisions within the ruling party’s top six came sharply into focus as contending voices began calling the President to account, while others defended him. Unfortunately, these cracks were superficially plastered over in an attempt to project a united front.
The ANC’s alliance partners, Cosatu and the SACP, demanded that President Zuma should resign. The labour federation stated: “Cosatu no longer believes that the president is the right person to lead the country and the movement … the time has arrived for him to step down. Cosatu no longer believes in his leadership abilities.”
The SACP was equally scathing, stating: “We have reached a decisive moment in which, in the considered view of the SACP leadership, Zuma must now resign.”
I was one of the religious leaders who was prepared to give President Zuma a chance at the beginning of his presidential tenure. Indeed, I had reached out to him in the run-up to the 2009 national elections. I have had private audience with the President on several occasions, giving him the benefit of the doubt at first. However, like Cosatu and the SACP, one is disappointed at how he has led the country, particularly how his latest actions have plunged South Africa into a crisis. Regrettably, and with a heavy heart, I must now echo what Cosatu has said: I no longer believe in his leadership abilities.
The dissent against the President is not only confined to the ANC’s alliance partners. Within the ANC there are people who have openly questioned President Zuma’s judgment, especially on the latest Cabinet reshuffle. The initial reaction by three of the ANC’s top six was telling. The trio – Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize – were opposed to the reshuffle and initially showed their displeasure openly, being honest with us as citizens. In a shocking about-turn, when they paid a political price in the ANC for their honesty, they capitulated. American poet and philosopher Criss Jami, in his book Salome: In Every Inch in Every Mile (2011) says: “When a man is penalised for honesty he learns to lie.” This is exactly what we saw last week when Mantashe, in effect, said their initial position on the Cabinet reshuffle was wrong. By capitulating, they have further eroded the credibility of our current political leadership.
There are a litany of lapses by the president that we have witnessed from the beginning of his term. In all of these, the ANC, its alliance partners and society in general exercised the politics of grace and showed tremendous patience with him. Last week’s marches and those planned ahead show that the people have run out of patience. What is very clear though is that the target of the protests is President Zuma and not necessarily his party. The ANC will have to choose between the people and its alliance partners on the one hand and President Zuma on the other.
In the current outrage against Zuma, it would be disingenuous and dangerous not to point out several fault lines that continue to affect our society. Last week’s marches were centred on our cities and major towns. It would be interesting to know the extent to which rural areas and historically black townships share these sentiments. Anecdotal evidence suggests there wasn't much, if any, protest action in those areas. Therefore, the removal of President Zuma may be a battle by the middle class, both black and white, who keenly appreciate and will feel the impact on our economy, of a “junk status” verdict. For the poor who already struggle and live in junk status daily, this battle may seem inconsequential at first. The class and attitudinal fissures in this battle are glaring, but South Africa, in spite of these contradictions, is a nation with a mutually interdependent future of which all these communities are a part.
The same applies to racial fault lines. Although the marches last week transcended race, offering hope that racial identity politics is on the retreat, the debate about which section of our society marches on what issue suggests our race-tinted glasses have not been abandoned.
What these fault lines underscore is that it will take more than “unity in anger against one person” to mend our nationhood. The president may resign or be recalled tomorrow but that in itself will not bring about economic equality and racial harmony in our country. It will require a consistent long-term commitment from those who have, especially corporate South Africa, to root out the economic inequalities that threaten our country.
As we exercise our democratic rights and protest, demanding accountability from our leaders and good government from this in the state, we need to reflect on our socio-economic rights and responsibilities, and unite to build a just and equitable South Africa. There is no better time, than this Holy week of Easter, for people of faith and conscience, to pray and to mobilize for our country and for our leaders. After all, the ANC was put in power by the people, to rule on their behalf.
RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIRPERSON NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)