NEWS

Will Working Class South Africans Take Part In the National Shutdown Tomorrow?

Save SA claims to represent a wide variety of people, but the working class is not entirely on board.

06/04/2017 16:23 SAST | Updated 06/04/2017 23:06 SAST

Analysis

South Africans are due to take to the streets in numbers on Friday, largely organised behind the Save South Africa (Save SA) banner. But the protests have also been criticised for being a mainly middle-class affair, raising questions about the prospects of their success.

Galvanised by the reshuffle of the Cabinet by President Jacob Zuma last week, which saw the axeing of Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, Save SA has called on South Africans to protest the current political state of affairs on Friday.

It claims to represent a large network of social movements, canvassing a cross-section of society.

But organisations which typically claim to represent the working class and poor this week mostly confirmed that they would stay away.

Not because they agreed with Zuma's decision to reshuffle his Cabinet, or about the general state of affairs in the country, but because they felt abandoned by the country when their struggles were being fought.

The overwhelming sentiment seems to be: "We have been protesting all this time. Where have you been?"

S'Bu Zikode of Abahlali basMjondole, the KwaZulu-Natal based shackdwellers movement, said, "We will not jump because suddenly we have been asked to."

He said that while the organisation supported democratic protest, its members' struggles for land and dignity had been ongoing since before the dawn of democracy.

"Our cause was not started by the removal of Gordhan. While we are concerned with the political situation, there isn't anything new about it for us. We've been on our feet for a very long time. We're struggling on a daily basis. There's nothing alarming on our side, it has always been alarming. South Africans ignored us," he said.

However, Zikode said it was good that so many "conscious citizens" were voicing their concerns about the current political moment.

As far as the trade union movement goes, workers appear to have rejected Friday's protests too, on largely the same grounds.

Cosatu issued a statement on Thursday, outright asking its members not to attend any of the protest action.

"The Congress of South African Trade Unions reiterates its position that it does not support the so called "people's march" planned for tomorrow by Save South Africa organisation. We issue a clear and unambiguous message to our members to not join this march and not participate in any activities organised by Save SA. We are not confused about who our enemies are and in everything we do, we will be guided by our class interests."

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) issued a lengthy statement, in which it spelt out in over 3000 words how Zuma and Gordhan were anti-worker.

Therefore, the union, with its 350 000 members will not be formally joining any protest action on Friday.

"We hate corruption from anyone. We hate what the capitalists of all colours and from everywhere are doing to the working class and the poor in this country. The workers are free to participate in the marches, stay-aways and protests with their own independent posters and demands, as outlined above. Numsa, however, is not part of any of the political parties and organisations that are calling for mass protests against Zuma or for Pravin. All Numsa members and any other workers who will participate in the marches and protests and stay-aways must know that they are doing so as individuals, as is their democratic right," the union said.

Zwelinzima Vavi, at the helm of a new trade union federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) did not respond to questions about the union's stance on the issue.

It has been reported that Vavi and Saftu are not taking part in the protests. But Lawson Naidoo, one of the organisers of Save SA, told Huffington Post SA that Saftu was one of its partner organisations.

He said the Treatment Action Campaign, with its huge network amongst the poor and working class, were also partners. He was responding to questions about whether Save SA was a largely middle-class project.

"If people think that Save SA is a middle class thing, I really don't know where they are looking," he said.

The Economic Freedom Fighters also did not respond to questions about their stance, and the South African Communist Party could not be reached.

Political analyst Steven Friedman stressed that if Save SA and other organisations now protesting against the state of affairs only appealed to the middle-classes, they would have little impact.

The W