NEWS

The Resistance: South Africans Mobilise

There have been many calls to stand up against what's happening in the country, but how can ordinary South Africans get involved?

04/04/2017 17:14 SAST | Updated 04/04/2017 17:59 SAST
Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images
Save SA organisation, unions and other civil society groups members demonstrate in support of axed Finance minister Pravin Gordhan outside the Treasury.

There have been no shortage of calls for South Africans to mobilise, from the former finance minister Pravin Gordhan to current government leaders. But what does mobilisation mean, and how can ordinary South Africans get involved?

Gordhan called for "mass mobilisation" to ensure accountability in the state, telling mourners who attended ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada's memorial service: "There are many of my comrades in the [ANC] NEC that would say the same thing, that the people shall govern."

"You can't govern if you remain in your comfortable lounge. Become organised, part of something."

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking at a fundraising event on Saturday night, also appeared to be advocating for change.

"What is happening now is a process that is going to trigger that renewal that we all need. What you are required to do as citizens of this country is to support the efforts that are going to be made by those who want to make sure our country lives up to the values of Nelson Mandela," Ramaphosa said

The newly formed South African Federation of Trade Unions has also added its voice to calls for mobilisation. It said last week via Facebook that the "time for theorising but doing nothing belongs in the past!" Former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi now heads this new federation. He was not available this week to shed light on what the trade unions are planning, but the unions have joined the Save SA campaign.

Here are three ways ordinary people are being asked to get involved:

Marches and protests

South Africans have a long history of protest marches, and this is likely to be the most common way they will voice their grievances. While the Democratic Alliance has planned a "march for change" to Beyers Naude Square on Friday, Save SA has organised a number of marches and protests across the country. On Monday, an anti-Gupta protest was held in Pretoria's Church Square, and a multi-sectoral meeting was held in Cape Town.

On Tuesday, there will be a "people's rally" in Port Elizabeth at the City Hall Square at 1pm, to be addressed be former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas, and Save SA convenor, Sipho Pityana. Once a decision has been made on when a vote of no confidence in Zuma will be held, Save SA is planning a march outside of Parliament, and events in Pietermaritzburg and Durban are being planned.

Political analyst Steven Friedman says that while numbers are important, what matters more is strategy, when protesting. He said that one of the best examples of this was the Treatment Action Campaign, which at its height had about 15,000 members. This was a fraction of the 5 million people infected with HIV at the time, he said, but their strategy proved to be extremely effective.

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is also due to launch protest action, and has said that more details will be forthcoming soon. Via its Twitter account, the foundation has said it supports various initiatives underway so long as they are peaceful.

Parliament

Parliament is currently in recess, which means MPs are supposed to be out doing constituency work. But there are growing calls for Parliament to resume its work sooner so a vote of no confidence in Zuma can be held. Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, is considering the request. The request comes from several opposition parties, chiefly the DA and the EFF. With the ANC clearly divided on Zuma, opposition parties may decide now is the time to strike, and hope that ANC MPs will vote with them.

While our parliamentarians do not typically account to us, and are beholden to the instructions of their parties, they can still be lobbied. And now is the perfect time, since constituency work means doing work for their constituency, which means doing work for you. You can find your representative and their contact details here: www.pa.org.za

Online

A number of online sites have cropped up since Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle, with many taking their voices to the internet. Civicsacademy.co.za is not new, but has gained prominence in the last week as a resource for citizens who want to take action. The site provides educational material and videos, to educate the public about their rights. Feeling like you don't know how to take action? A new site called whatcanido.org.za aims to equip citizens with more information about how they can get involved.

A quick Google search for "petition Zuma" reveals just how trigger happy South Africans are with petitions. A number of petitions have grown exponentially in the last week, including one started by the DA, calling for Zuma to step down, which reached over 100,000 signatures in the days since the reshuffle took place. A number of #ZumaMustFall petitions also exist online which are by no means new, but which have regained some significance in the last few days.

Does it matter?

Friedman says that while it is unlikely that a single protest will change anything, "that does not mean that people shouldn't". He said there was a balance to be struck between trying to achieve big numbers during protests and ensuring long term strategic success.

Lead SA organiser Lawson Naidoo said one of the challenges in organising resistance in South Africa was that it was a very large country with its population spread out over great distances. He said it was therefore important for citizens to organise in their own communities.

Friedman said people should not expect that decisions will be overturned in the course of one protest. But he said there were a variety of organisations now providing avenues of expression, and the problem isn't a lack thereof.

But change takes time, he warned, so it was important for campaigns to join together and strategise.

Naidoo said it was important that a variety of modes of struggle be incorporated, bearing in mind that decisions can only be overturned in government, specically, during a vote of no confidence -in Parliament.

He said the Save SA campaign was also joined by the likes of the Treatment Action Campaign and non-Cosatu aligned unions, so its reputation as a middle-class organisation was unfair.

And while there were a variety of possible activities for people to get involved in, "the crucial thing is that people do something," he said.