SA’s shutdown can only work if the middle class can reach across the divide

Leaders of opppositon parties gathered at meeting to discuss a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma on April 03, 2017 in Johannesburg. PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN

Since Thursday’s cabinet reshuffle, South Africans are looking for ways to dissent, and ultimately overthrow Zuma, but reactions have been divided. The Daily Vox looks into what the responses have been, the divisions between them, and what can guarantee a successful mass mobilisation.

It may have taken a few days but the opposition to Zuma’s reshuffle finally seems to have a coordinated response. However, questions still remain if we will see the type of mass mobilisation that can unseat Zuma.

Opposition parties have found a reason to unite

The first coordinated response to Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle occurred on Monday, when  the ACDP, COPE, DA, EFF, IFP, and UDM leadership joined together to call for Zuma’s resignation and to declare a national day of action on Wednesday 12 April at the Union Buildings. In a joint statement read at the press briefing held in Emmarentia, the opposition parties said they are mobilising other parties and groups to join the march. “[We] will speak with one voice calling for Jacob Zuma to remove himself from the Union Buildings.”

The parties said that they would support a vote of no confidence against Zuma in Parliament and that they supported both the DA’s and the EFF’s cases concerning the legal rationality of the cabinet reshuffle and the duty of Parliament to impeach the president, respectively.

Trade unions are not mobilising yet

Trade unions have rejected calls for a nationwide stay-away on Friday. Spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said on Monday that Cosatu will not participate in Friday’s protest. “We are not comfortable with selective outrage … We deal with issues at our time, pace and ways,” he said.

The newly formed South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has also rejected these calls. Zwelinzima Vavi, convener of Saftu’s steering committee said: “Nobody knows who made the call on workers to stay away from work. We don’t know whether it is agents provocateur, so there will be no shutdown.”

Saftu has called for coordinated protests, organised by different organisations.

First attempts at mobilisation are divided

Following Zuma’s controversial cabinet reshuffle, civil society organisations and political parties called on South Africans to join mass mobilisation movements to voice their dissent. A call to wear black on Monday in protest of Zuma’s actions spread via social media and the DA is holding a rally near Luthuli House on Friday. But these attempts at mobilisation have been divided across race and socio-economic lines.

Some called the #BlackMonday movement a superficial reaction by white South Africans. “Why did they only decide to challenge President Zuma’s injustices after they were directly affected?” asked our Mohammed Jameel Abdulla on Monday. Many are also apprehensive about joining the DA march because civil organisations that have taken the lead in the #ZumaMustFall campaign, such as Save South Africa, represent white corporations.

Who’s fighting who?

Murray Hunter, national advocacy coordinator for the Right2Know Campaign, believes that the current debate has been falsely divided into two opposing camps which is causing demobilisation. “Despite one’s ideological leanings, it’s clear that the reshuffle is a move to put the public purse up for sale,” he said. “It’s important … to actually resist that movement.”

The debate has been squarely divided into two groups: pro-Zuma and anti-Zuma.

Professor Peter Alexander, South African Research Chair in Social Change at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) said that Zuma is portraying himself as a pro-poor president who is critical of Treasury, and who believes in radical transformation as a way out of poverty. “That rhetoric of radical transformation is benefitting him,” said Alexander. This rhetoric is what gains Zuma popularity among the working class.

Even though Ramaphosa has spoken out against Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle, the multi-billionaire deputy president is highly problematic in the minds of working class South Africans. “Ramaphosa hasn’t really identified himself with the basic material interests with the working class people.” said Alexander.

Gordhan has been made, over the past few days, the face of the anti-Zuma campaign, a largely middle class movement according to Alexander. Gordhan also lacks working class credibility and is a favourite amongst liberals. “People have suffered a lot and many associate that with the Treasury and associate it with the neoliberal policies which Zuma appears to be criticising at the moment,” said Alexander of Gordhan and the Treasury.

The involvement of the EFF in the national day of action at the Union Buildings will, Alexander said, lend credibility to what is considered a largely middle class reaction that it long overdue. “[T]he wider problem is whether or not the anti-Zuma faction can mobilise amongst working class people,” said Alexander.

Trade unions’ rejection of Friday’s stay-away hampers the possibility of a grand scale mobilisation. But next Wednesday’s national day of action, the first coordinated opposition movement, may bring together currently divided groups.

Featured image by Gulshan Khan



  1. I must say that Bell-Potinger’s race baiting campaign seems to be working beautifully, we’re all fighting one another whilst the Zuptas are busy picking EVERYONE’S pockets, both rich and poor!

    Wake up people! If we don’t keep our eye on the ball we will all be paying R150 for a loaf of bread by the time the 2019 elections come along. First get rid of Zuma and his inner circle then we can argue about race, he’s playing us all like a fiddle!


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