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Save SA lays down the gauntlet: ‘We have the power to...

South Africa

South Africa, Politics

Save SA lays down the gauntlet: ‘We have the power to remove Zuma’

Wednesday was a historic day, according to leaders of Save South Africa, which launched a “people’s motion” to remove President Jacob Zuma. Others have tried and failed, but Save SA believes it can force the ANC’s hand. By GREG NICOLSON.

Save South Africa,” yelled Sipho Pityana.

Save!” the crowd replied.

Around 80 people were gathered in Constitutional Hill’s Old Women’s Gaol. A two-story banner with Save SA’s logo hung behind a dozen campaign leaders. The Gaol’s pillars were draped in the colours of the flag. Flat-screen TVs sat on either side of the stage. Drummers emphasised key points. The uniform: A Save SA T-shirt and bandana tied around the neck. Pityana was at the centre of it all.

Save South Africa was launched on November 2, 2016 in Tshwane. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s fraud case was scheduled to be heard around the corner and the Economic Freedom Fighters had shut down the city. Civil society leaders, clergy, a number of notable politicians, plus 81 of the country’s top CEOs, had united to defend the minister. Then, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report was released, intensifying strident criticism of President Zuma and his allies.

Those implicated in the report into the Gupta family’s influence on the state have mostly denied the allegations or sought to delay the consequences, but the net has been closing. On Wednesday, it was Save SA’s turn to apply pressure, to start making good on its promise that it’s about more than just Gordhan, or protecting the interests of the richest CEOs in the country – that it is about saving South Africa.

Today civil society is saying no to corruption. We are saying no to state capture,” said Save SA convenor Pityana on Wednesday. “Above all else, we are saying no to a president who appears to have virtually handed over the power vested in him by the people to a coterie of shady and unscrupulous characters.”

Pityana, an ANC stalwart and AngloGold Ashanti chairman, has this year become one of Zuma’s harshest critics.

He noted the litany of allegations against the president, his Cabinet, and state institutions, as well as the stuttering economy, while he applauded those who have championed accountability.

On public platforms, in so-called cadre forums, the president glibly asks the question: Save South Africa from what?” he said, noting Zuma’s dismissal of the campaign.

Today we say the answer is clear: We must save South Africa from you, Mr President. Because if we do nothing today, there will be no South Africa to save by 2019.”

A metre-high placard on an easel was placed in front of the audience. “The People’s Motion of No Confidence in President Zuma” was unveiled like a modern-day Freedom Charter. Activist Ferial Adams read the document. People had lost confidence in Zuma since he had breached his oath of office, abused his power, and threatened economic stability, harming the interests of the poor. It urged the National Assembly to table the motion, which is an online petition, and then pass a motion of no confidence in Zuma. Save SA also urged supporters to publicly wear its bandanas, doeks and armbands, hold silent protests during the president’s speeches, and use its hashtag online.

From the stage, leaders from a cross-section of society spoke of the need to confront the nation’s ills, which first required quality leadership. Drawing the link between corruption and services, an activist from the Treatment Action Campaign spoke of a friend who died recently in the Eastern Cape after not being able to access the necessary health services. “Because you’re poor you have no voice. The only thing that is facing you is a grave. That is where we put our family and our friends,” she said.

Leader after leader lamented the country’s problems and the need to get rid of Zuma if we’re going to deal with those problems. The tactics seemed questionable: Silent protests, merchandise, an online petition? The launch of Save SA’s first large campaign echoed past efforts to mobilise civil society to provide organisations and citizens with a greater voice. Recently, we’ve seen the United Front, Awethu!, the Anti-Corruption March and #ZumaMustFall, all of which have had limited impact and often feature similar faces. As a sustained, civil society-led mass-movement in the democratic era, the Treatment Action Campaign still serves as a model, although its influence has been difficult to replicate.

Pityana and Mark Heywood, Section27 executive director and the event’s MC, were adamant that the campaign would continue to grow. “All of us must do whatever we can to achieve the right results,” said Pityana. “Offer support in any way you can.”

Save South Africa encourages demonstrations within the bounds of the law and Pityana pointed to the #RememberKhwezi protestors who disrupted Zuma’s speech in August as an example of the impact of peaceful protest.

We don’t need to burn and loot to win this campaign,” said Heywood. That’s a sign of weakness and affects the poor negatively, he said. “We believe we have enough power to democratically remove a corrupt president.”

A journalist said the unveiled document was flawed. The Democratic Alliance launches a motion of no confidence as often as Zuma fumbles over numbers, yet he’s still president because ANC MPs shoot each attempt down. The Save SA leaders believe they have a shot.

I know, and the president knows, members of the ANC are pained by his pathetic, poor and disgusting leadership,” said Pityana, telling ANC members at all levels that they must protect the organisation and get rid of Zuma. If the ANC NEC and MPs ignore the call, they might lose power in 2019, he said.

The argument has been made before, but Save SA believes it can amplify the urgency to remove the president. It wants millions of signatures on its petition and through the various civil society and religious groups who have signed up will begin a nationwide tour to build support.

A recent rally in New Brighton drew 2,000 people, said Pityana. The leaders encouraged citizens to engage their local MPs and suggested that a number of rallies might be held in the future, building up to a mass demonstration at Parliament in February when Zuma will deliver the State of the Nation Address. Pityana noted the demonstrations in Brazil (not everyone would see that as a positive example), of how getting people on the street can lead to an impeachment.

He said “one or two funding organisations” had donated money to Save SA but it was operating on a limited budget. Pityana said claims that he or the campaign were acting for big business or foreign countries were false and part of a smear campaign to divert attention from the questions being asked of Zuma and the ANC. Heywood said Save SA’s books would be transparent and audited.

Apart from Pityana, Save SA has a number of notable ANC leaders who have offered their support. Some of them signed a letter critical of party leadership that led to a meeting with the ANC’s top officials this week. Pityana said that while supporters of Save SA will come and go, the ANC process cannot derail the campaign. “Its programme cannot be influenced by the internal dynamics of the ANC.”

Will Save SA succeed in mobilising across society and influencing the ANC to act? Opposition parties and civil society groups have been able to put intense pressure on the president, but he has survived the unsurvivable because he and his party hold the cards. That could change as both public and party support for the president declines.

Before the Save SA campaign moved into the Old Women’s Gaol courtyard for cold drinks and muffins, Heywood confidently asked for suspended judgement on whether the new movement will fulfil its goals. “Measure us over the days, and weeks, and months ahead,” he warned. DM

Photo: Save SA convener Sipho Pityana addresses the campaign’s launch of a motion of no confidence in President Zuma. (Greg Nicolson)

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