In the days leading up to Friday’s countrywide protests, the question was asked by some commentators: what are we marching for?
It was a fair inquiry to make, but a difficult one to answer.
Without the benefit of hindsight, since this column is being written ahead of the planned demonstrations, it remains to be seen how the marches will be framed and where their ownership lies.
Are we witnessing an organic movement led by civil society? Or is it a moral crusade by the religious quarter? Or are we in tow of the opposition parties?
Quite understandably, we tend to get caught up in the heat of the moment, such are the dynamics of our contemporary politics, but it is important to reflect on these matters and, as always, my interest lies in what comes next.
So it becomes critical to examine the thesis of how and why we mobilise at a time like this.
When questioned at a press conference in the wake of his sacking as to what options lay before our besieged nation, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan implored us to “organise, organise”.
Gordhan was, by then, in full activist mode and while it might be a stretch to credit him with yesterday’s events, he undoubtedly sparked something. But what, exactly, did he ignite?
As thousands of South Africans take to the streets, I wonder what we would consider a successful outcome.
The elephant in the room is undoubtedly Jacob Zuma, and his recall from presidential service is the driving force behind this groundswell of dissent. Goodness knows, the man has thoroughly overstayed his welcome and any less obstinate head of state may have read the memo by now and got the hell out of Dodge.
His departure would be an instant salve for the national mood, which has taken a severe battering in the recent years.
While the physical manifestations of his reign are on display – endemic corruption, cronyism, a meek parliament, incompetent executive, weak economic growth – it is the psychological impact which I would venture has done more damage to our collective hopes for the future.
Zuma has traded those in for his own selfish interests and, having broken his oath of office, he deserves an endless midnight in purgatory – make that him and his network of patsies, toadies, puppet masters and thieves.
But Zuma is simply the apex of this insidious patronage structure and Friday was, presumably, about more than the individual. The system he operates needs dismantling; there can be no argument about that.
Does that represent anti-ANC sentiment? Is that ultimately what this is all about? Political reform?
Like Zuma, his party in its current guise offers little hope of salvation. There is no place for the voices of reason within and that is because the ANC has lost its centre and, more importantly, its compass. It is Jurassic.
But the opposition hardly has cause to claim the moral high-ground of late and, to some extent, in our metro at least, we can probably trace this to the confines of coalition politics.
Who knows, maybe these marches are actually a subconscious vote of no confidence in the political order itself, a sort of rallying cry for a new way. Younger generations probably wonder what the point of universal suffrage is, when their voices are carried aimlessly by the winds, only to find fallow fields in which to seed.
If you were among those who marched, you will know why you did it. Many, I suspect, had no fundamental priority other than the need to do it for themselves. To let their voices be heard; to give agency to their frustrations. And that is OK, that is powerful.
I don’t know what will come next and if it will follow anytime soon, but whatever the outcome, whenever it happens, it better be more than cheap reincarnation.