POLITICS

#SaveSA: Sound And Fury, Signifying Little

There was a marked contrast between Save SA's symbolic tabling of a motion of no-confidence in President Jacob Zuma and his performance in Parliament.

24/11/2016 08:42 SAST | Updated 24/11/2016 09:53 SAST
Pieter du Toit
The launch of the Save South Africa campaign's symbolic "people's vote of no-confidence" in President Jacob Zuma.

COMMENT

Sipho Pityana spoke eloquently. Mark Heywood tried valiantly. Bishop Jo Seoka prayed passionately. And Ahmed Kathrada sat quietly.

In the end, the launch of the organisation Save South Africa's campaign in Johannesburg on Wednesday, which aimed to gather millions of signatures in a symbolic "motion of no-confidence" in President Jacob, Zuma lacked the high octane needed to lift off.

In contrast, Zuma was forceful and confident answering questions at Parliament in Cape Town.

Zuma was forceful and confident answering questions at Parliament in Cape Town.

Opposition MP's bickered with speaker Baleka Mbete and members of the African National Congress (ANC) cheered their leader when he castigated the banks' decision to deny the Guptas service and called the state capture report "funny" and "unfair".

The motley crew — less than 100 people — that gathered at the Women's Gaol on Constitution Hill consisted of a few private citizens and representatives from a number of prominent non-governmental organisations, including Section27, the Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education and others.

Pityana told the gathering South Africa had reached a fork in the road and that it was the responsibility of every citizen that loved the country to get involved in the new struggle. He berated Zuma for his lack of judgement, his poor record in governance and his questionable relationship with the Guptas of Saxonwold.

South Africa has reached a fork in the road and that it is the responsibility of every citizen that loves this country to get involved in the new struggle.Sipho Pityana

He also had choice words for his comrades in the ANC, saying if they believe the country can be turned around with Zuma at the helm, "they live in cloud cuckoo land".

"But this is about more than Zuma. It is about telling those that elect the president that you can't replace Zuma with someone just like him, someone that uses state coffers as his own ATM, someone who invites his cronies into government. If they do that, we'll be there," he said.

Phillip Dexter, the former ANC and Congress of the People (Cope) Member of Parliament, remarked forlornly that there just weren't enough political and struggle heavyweights in attendance to catapult the campaign as a serious player. "Trevor Manuel supports them, why isn't he here? We've seen with Cope and the [Economic Freedom Fighters], it's small pieces breaking off. It takes time," he said.

"Trevor Manuel supports them, why isn't he here? We've seen with Cope and the [Economic Freedom Fighters], it's small pieces breaking off. It takes time."Phillip Dexter

Dexter could add to that list the United Front, launched with the organisational capacity, money and might of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), but which has seemingly sunk without trace.

"The problem with initiatives like this is always momentum. It needs to be sustained. Otherwise... " Dexter trailed off. And he knows what he's taking about — Cope collapsed under the egos of Mosiuoa Terror Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa.

Zuma and members of the political elite's performance in the National Assembly, however, served to confirm the frustration felt by those at Constitution Hill, a feeling that politics and politicians are unable to guide this country to its full potential.

Mbete has been an atrocious speaker, an unworthy successor to Max Sisulu. She has been wholly committed to her job as national chairperson of the ANC and protecting Zuma ever since she returned to the speaker's chair for her second stint in 2014.

Wednesday's proceedings began with a lengthy discussion about her suitability to chair the sitting while Zuma is at the podium. The Democratic Alliance pushed, the ANC resisted, and Zuma continued, with his consigliere in the speaker's chair.

And he didn't hold back, delivering the performance worthy of a head of state and party leader in complete control of all the levers of political power, unashamedly advancing his agenda and sure of his base.

And he didn't hold back, delivering the performance worthy of a head of state and party leader in complete control of all the levers of political power, unashamedly advancing his agenda and sure of his base.

He charged in to bat for the Guptas, saying banks' decisions to close his friends' accounts must be probed and that they can't be allowed to "willy-nilly" refuse banking services to people.

Zuma then took a swipe at Thuli Madonsela and her final act as public protector: the report into state capture. "It can't be," he said. "It can't be that the process of appointing a commission of inquiry can be directed in a report. Only the president can do that. It can't be."

It might be the act of a president under pressure and lashing out, but the cries from the benches of the ANC certainly weren't cries of derision or denouncement, they were cries of pleasure and approval, which suggests business as usual in our national legislature — the speaker the president's enabler, the president dismissing the opposition and the opposition frustrating civil society.

The speaker the president's enabler, the president dismissing the opposition and the opposition frustrating civil society.

Back at Constitution Hill, there was a real and legitimate frustration with the political elite and the way they conducted their business. Civil society is shaping up as a counterweight to executive power where opposition parties fall short.

Save South Africa reckons the politicians need to be replaced — it's not clear, however, who they should be replaced with.