Civil society plans mass action protests to force under-fire Zuma to step down

A growing backlash against President Jacob Zuma from within the ANC and its allies has many questioning whether this is the final countdown for his presidency.

This comes amid a groundswell of opposition by civil society, tripartite alliance members and trade unions, who are calling for Zuma’s removal from office.

A mysterious website – “Black Monday” – has urged South Africans to wear black today in opposition to Zuma.

The website’s anonymous creators say: “We can no longer be passive. Let us start the change we wish to see in our beloved country.”

Civil society group SaveSA, which will demonstrate outside the Treasury in Pretoria today, has asked people to “hoot for Zuma to go” for 15 minutes between 1pm and 2pm today.

“Wherever you are, stand on a street corner with placards or take a petition to your nearest government office.

“We cannot stop now. We need to intensify our struggle,” it said.

In Port Elizabeth, the SaveSA campaign will hold a protest rally tomorrow at Vuyisile Mini Square at the City Hall, according to co-organiser Mkhuseli “Khusta” Jack.

The rally, which is expected to be joined by religious leaders, will be addressed by SaveSA leader Sipho Pityana and axed deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas.

Jack said they were travelling around the Eastern Cape mobilising South Africans to join in the call for Zuma to resign.

“We were out in Mthatha and Dutywa [yesterday] mobilising some of our protest groups,” he said.

“We are preparing for the mother of all mass actions and a date will be announced during the Port Elizabeth rally.

“We want to appeal to all South Africans young and old to join us.

“We must go on the streets and protest and do whatever is necessary within the confines of the law to stop Zuma’s lunacy,” Jack said.

The DA plans to march on ANC headquarters Luthuli House on Friday.

The tsunami of discontent follows a string of missteps by Zuma, which culminated with his firing of respected former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and Jonas, in a late-night cabinet reshuffle last week.

It has left the ANC riven by splits and spurred the SACP, a key political ally of the ANC, to call on Zuma to resign.

Almost a year after the Constitutional Court found Zuma had broken his oath of office, he is now waging an intense rearguard action to ensure he survives till the end of his term.

This will come down to two showdowns today – when the ANC top six meet at Luthuli House for their regular weekly meeting, followed by a special national working committee meeting in the afternoon.

Three of the top six – Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize – have broken rank, openly speaking out against Zuma’s decision to axe Gordhan and Jonas.

Their firing was based, according to Zuma’s critics, on a dubious intelligence report which said the two were, while on an investor roadshow to the US and UK, to secretly meet with backers to discuss support to overthrow the government.

Both Gordhan and Jonas have rubbished the claims.

A usually composed Gordhan made an emotional call on Saturday for “mass mobilisation” at a memorial gathering for anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, where the crowd chanted for the removal of Zuma.

Mantashe claims the reshuffling did not come from the ANC, but that Zuma had simply presented it to them.

Ramaphosa described Zuma’s action as “unacceptable”.

Meanwhile, national ANC chairwoman and parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete cut short her trip to Bangladesh, returning to South Africa yesterday, to deal with the reshuffle fallout amid calls for a vote of no confidence in Zuma.

Her return is seen as part of an attempt to present a united front to bolster Zuma’s ranks with his supporters.

Mbete suggested that the firing of Gordhan and Jonas was based on more than the intelligence report.

She said Zuma presented some historic background on the situation with Gordhan during a meeting he held with several of the ANC’s top brass as well as the tripartite alliance.

“It was part of a package of issues that the president touched on as a background,” Mbete said.

“We appreciated the fact that he took us into confidence as a head of state. He was thorough.

“We did not discuss the intelligence report. There was no question of agreeing or not agreeing on it. We did not see [the report].”

Pressed for comment on what she felt about those who spoke out against Zuma, Mbete was critical.

“We have a way we do things. We have a culture. We have meetings,” she said.

“There are things we don’t do but we will discuss those things in the meeting.”

Mbete said Zuma’s decision to single-handedly make the decision to reshuffle the cabinet was not a common one, stating that in previous circumstances he had sought their input.

“There is no ANC process that requires the president to consult about reshuffling, but he always comes to the officials.

“[But] it is not like there is a rule that he should come and have a big discussion.”

She herself had simply received a call from Zuma, informing her that he was about to make an important announcement.

Mbete said the differences on the views should not come as a surprise.

She, however, admitted that this time things were different as top officials were airing their disapproval in the media.

On the vote of a no-confidence debate, Mbete said MPs were due to return to the National Assembly in May.

Opposition MPs are calling on proceedings to resume sooner.

Mbete said she would start with consultations tomorrow to establish whether there were grounds for this.

Responding to questions on a possible secret ballot, she said: “A secret ballot is not part of what we do.

“We simply just don’t do the secret ballot until there is enough pressure from the MPs themselves that the rules be changed.”

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party was united and he was confident ANC MPs would oppose any moves to remove Zuma.

He said the pending motion of no confidence was frivolous and dismissed the SACP’s calls for Zuma to resign.

“We don’t have MPs of the SACP, we have MPs of the ANC. Nobody is in parliament as SACP,” Kodwa said.

At least 17 of the ANC’s 249 MPs are SACP members.

Solly Mapaila, the SACP’s second deputy general secretary, hit back.

“We have an extended politburo [today] in Johannesburg,” he said.

“The politburo took the decision for Zuma to resign.

“The main issue is the planned mass action, how to mobilise the masses.”

DA MP John Steenhuisen said while they appreciated that Mbete had to consult, “we cannot allow her office to dawdle”. – Additional reporting by Avuyile Mngxitama-Diko, Reuters

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