President Jacob Zuma's echo chamber protects him from the public barbs and shards. At the ANC policy conference two weeks ago, the construction of his chamber was on display.
The President moves about in a convoy of 12 cars; he is surrounded by a personal presidential guard of 17 men and one very fierce woman. (Police unions say it is officially 22 guards)
These days, his team builds a public schedule that shields his echo chamber: public events are controlled to include only those of high protocol where the rowdy shouts of the disaffected are sifted out early in the RSVP process.
Political events are scheduled only for sweetheart party occasions like Monday night's Nelson Mandela memorial lecture hosted by the ANC Youth League. Such a controlled environment was ramped up when Nelson Mandela died in 2013 and Gauteng members of the ANC decided to boo President Zuma at the Johannesburg leg of the statesman's farewell because there is a glaring difference between democratic South Africa's first president and its fourth.
The emperor is naked and outside of Zone Z everybody knows.
More like PW Botha than Nelson Mandela
The business sector knows. Long nervous and cowed by repeated smackdowns from former President Thabo Mbeki, there's a new business sheriff in town.
Fresh out of the presidential suite at Shell SA, the face of business is now Bonang Mohale who is CEO of Business Leadership SA (BLSA). This is the organisation of Big Business which brings together South Africa's biggest corporations who bulk up the tax receipts. On Tuesday Mohale aligned business to an anti-corruption movement which has found its muscle when he addressed the conference on the future of South Africa. Mohale said President Jacob Zuma was more like the apartheid strongman P W Botha than democracy's founding father Nelson Mandela. The big business sector has now formally placed itself in opposition to the Zuma administration after former finance minister Pravin Gordhan's axing and the unilateral imposition of the mining charter by Mineral Resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane. The mining industry, organised by the Chamber of Mines, took the minister to court and got the implementation of the charter suspended.
Corporate funding is clearly being leveraged to support a movement against state capture. It is well-resourced but not lavishly so: there is enough to support a range of court actions to tackle looting, notably at publicly owned companies.
And there are sufficient resources to organise mass protests: the first happened within days of Gordhan being fired; another is likely on August 8 when parliament hears the eighth motion of no confidence in the administration of Zuma.
On Tuesday, Mandela's eponymous birthday, over 130 civil society organisations launched a full-blown movement against state capture. The movement is being organised by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, with other orgnisations. Kathrada's funeral and memorials in April became a rallying point to oppose state capture as Mandela's best friend died a few days before Zuma axed Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas.
The comparisons with P W didn't end with Mohale. The comedian puppet, Chester Missing, declared Zuma to be "PW Botha with a tan." The crowd, brimming with ANC grandees, howled with laughter. It's good President Zuma's minders keep him in the echo chamber. It's harsh on the streets. And when the artists turn activists, you know you have a movement.
The pulpit versus the Zuma adminstration
The conference on the future of South Africa held on Tuesday was hosted at Rhema Church, the holy ground of Pastor Ray McCauley, one of South Africa's most powerful religious leaders.
Rhema is a wealthy and influential church which once aligned with President Zuma. It now stands in opposition to the president's administration because of the descent into corruption. While he did not attend but sent a recorded message, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana of the SA Council of Churches (SACC) has led the assault on state capture. The SACC held "unburdening panels" where individuals who wanted to speak about corruption in the state could share their stories. The Muslim Judicial Council also allied itself with the fight against corruption.
South Africa is a deeply religious country and the churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples are politically powerful. They are beginning to play the same oppositional role to the present ANC administration as they did under apartheid.
Tuesday's conference also organised the youth against state capture. The anti-corruption movement is not being organised outside of the ANC but rather from within it – its umbrella is, after all, the foundation of Kathrada, an ANC veteran. At Tuesday's meeting, former Tourism minister and ANC MP Derek Hanekom played a significant role (he is chairperson of the Kathrada Foundation); Gordhan walked the aisles; Jonas sat and listened while the party's exiled stalwarts and veterans were out in force.
The style of organising through sectors (like business, labour, youth, women and community groups) and commissions which draw up resolutions (a set of political plans) is very like the United Democratic Front (UDF) was organised. The UDF was an internal wing of the ANC until its unbanning.
South Africa no longer needs you
While Tuesday's conference attempted to go beyond calls for Zuma to step down, two of the president's comrades told him it was time up. For the first time, Gordhan, speaking on an earlier Radio 702 panel, called on the president to step down to allow South Africa to reboot. And ANC MP Makhosi Khoza directly addressed Zuma and told him South Africa no longer needed him.
Khoza's speech was a series of fireballs which questioned everything about Zuma's leadership and about the ANC's commitment to democratic centralism – the idea that the political leadership is the centre that sets the path.
What, she asked, happens when you are given immoral directives from the centre? The directive she is railing against is that the ANC at parliament must vote against a DA motion of no confidence against Zuma at parliament on August 8. If an anti-corruption movement was born on Mandela's birthday on Tuesday, the strength of its muscle will be assessed on that day – the first mass protest it will organise.