‘We wish you were never born’
Wednesday starts off as a miserable day, depending on which side of the political divide you are on. The rain beats down on marchers who have gathered at Church Square in Pretoria to demand that the birthday boy, President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, leave the highest office in the land. The word on the street is that uBaba has deployed rain to Tshwane – he will not let the opposition get one up on him on his 75th.
By about 11am, however, the skies clear and the numbers continue to swell.
One by one, civil society and opposition party leaders are paraded on the stage by Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) secretary-general Godrich Gardee.
“Jou moer, Jacob Zuma. Jou moer,” says a representative from the Shosholoza Progressive Party in his greeting to the masses.
The DA, the EFF, the United Democratic Movement (UDM), Cope, the African Christian Democratic Party, the Inkatha Freedom Party and even the African Independent Congress have their chance to greet the masses, who hold up an array of posters. “Send nudes,” reads one. “Zuma, we wish you were never born, hamba wena,” says another.
The message crosses party lines – it is unequivocal in the demand that Msholozi must go.
Party leaders link arms and walk through the crowd to the lawns at the Union Buildings. The image is a premonition of what South Africa may look like in 2019.
Upon arrival, some overenthusiastic marchers rush up to the barbed wire barricade as police stare them down.
Soon, marshals arrive and shout the group to order – this is a disciplined gathering.
“We don’t actually want Zuma to go,” someone from the opposition tells me. “The ANC must keep him there; they must defend him. They must show their supporters that he is bigger than the organisation; that his needs are greater than the masses. They will be punished at the polls and we will have a national coalition.”
The police estimate the crowd numbers at 100 000. This must be a relief for the ANC’s commander of the Twitter battalion, Mzwanele Manyi. Earlier in the day, he tweeted: “BREAKING NEWS: Stats indicate that the march today will FAIL to mobilise even 200 000 people.”
The first speaker at the Union Buildings is the leader of the ANC’s first breakaway party, the UDM’s Bantu Holomisa, who calls for a summit of political and civil society: “We can’t continue marching forever. We must find a way to converge under one roof to discuss South Africa’s future.”
As things wind down and most of the speakers have had their say, the leader of the third breakaway party from the ANC approaches the microphone and a sea of red comes alive.
Julius Malema calls for South Africans to hold “small demonstrations in your own communities”.
Ever focused on 2019, Malema rubbishes the notion that “junk” status will only affect whites.
“Junk status is not an issue of white people alone. It is going to affect the poorest of the poor … When we take power in 2019, bread will be R80 and you will blame us,” he said.
The young leader wraps up and the marchers head home, just in time to catch the president’s birthday celebrations on TV.
GROUNDSWELL Members of opposition parties march to the Union Buildings on Wednesday to demand that President Jacob Zuma resign from office