First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Live blog: Day of mass action in Pretoria, and happy bi...

South Africa

South Africa

Live blog: Day of mass action in Pretoria, and happy birthday, Mr. President!

If you’ve ever had a bad birthday, at least you’ve not had a birthday so bad that tens of thousands of people stage a march against you. This is how it all unfolded.

18:45 That’s where we’ll leave things for today. If you want more, you know where to find it.

18:41 Things have just wrapped up at the birthday bash and it was pretty much as North Korea-esque as you expect. Zuma, delivering his birthday speech in English, basically said that he’s not worried about tens of thousands of people marching against him. Or parties clubbing together to unite against him. In fact, he says he sees all of this as a sign that the opposition are “worried”. Well, yes, they are. They are worried, but not in the way you might think, Mr. President.

16:00 Bheki says Jessie Duarte, Bathabile Dlamini, Kebby Maphatsoe and Cosatu’s Sdumo Dlamini are amongst those present.

15:52 Meanwhile, Zuma is being welcomed to stage with chants of “long live the tripartite alliance, long live. Viva Cosatu Viva, Viva SACP, Viva!”

Yeah, you know, those peeps who have said that Jacob Zuma must resign. 

15:51 We’re back for a bit of birthday celebrations. Simon Allison has this for us.

14:12 That pretty much wraps it up. In summary: it was huge. The hugest ever. Just the biggest. Massive. Malema stole the show with his usual wry humour and #FearFokol approach. He said that this is “not a racist” attack, but if it his racist to “want Zuma to go, we ar proud racists”. Political parties have put their differences aside and they have zoned in on Birthday Boy. People carried butternuts. And the Voetsek Revolution is in full swing. Malema promised more action to come across the country. Oh, and EFF members had a mock funeral for Zuma. People are really unhappy with him. The coffin has now been laid to waste.

14:06 Malema wrapping up now. Encourages crowd to have “small demonstrations” in their communities. “Go stand on bridges, just hold a placard”. Says the crowd should “go peacefully” and “let’s protect each other”.

14:00 Malema is wearing a specially printed shirt with today’s date on it, by the way. So, if there is more pass action across the country, will he print a shirt every time? All the ink and paper saved on the memo is going on shirts.

13:52 Here’s Julius. Obviously gets one of the biggest cheers. Dude’s got charisma for days. Lots of talk about unity and winning back the country. So, white people, you are ok there in the crowd.

“When we are united, we will never be defeated by an illiterate president,” he says. He adds: “the only job he can do better is to herd cattle”. He also says there’s no memo because Zuma “can’t read” and that it’s “pointless” to have a memo for a man who “doesn’t have a relationships with books”. Promises more mass action to follow across the country.

13:38 Lekota now on stage. Huge cheers, lots of chanting of “Terror!” He says South Africa belongs to everyone.

13:30 F4SD earlier said, they just can’t, you guys. “Junk state, junk health, junk everything!”

13:28 The speakers are doing well. They are short, pithy, quirky and clearly inspired by the “zero chill” shown by the crowd. Estimates of the crowd now at 120 000.

13:26 How puzzling: There seems to be an overlap between Zuma’s birthday wish, and the wish of the people, and yet they still keep asking him to go. Zuma, the Citizen reported, said his birthday wish was to see victory against racism and inequality, adding that through the presidency there needed to be progress in black economic empowerment so that the country could achieve “true economic freedom”. The people, on the other hand, were more pithy. One poster read: “Tsek Zuma tsotsies!” Is it pessimistic to say we’re beyond settling this over a pint?

13:22 And here’s Dali Mpofu: Hello ANC, if you’re watching from home, you’re welcome here. This march is not anti ANC, we just want Zuma out. Haak Vrystaat.

13:17 Poplak has this bit: I just spoke with Julius Malema. He seems mightily chuffed. When I asked how many people were here, he laughed. ‘Dali [Mpofu] says 100,000. I don’t know.’

13:11 Phumzile van Damme from the DA keeps it short and sweet saying that “they tried to divide us, but they failed”. ACDP echoes sentiments, saying this is not a racist march. Adds: “When people in SA come together in a fashion like this… nothing is impossible for us to do.”

13:06 Praise from Mpofu to Holimisa for his part in bringing crowds together. The DA apparently estimates 100 000 in the crowd. Holimisa is now addressing the crowd. He said South Africans are most concerned about corruption, land, unemployed, but says that the economy is the biggest concern which will inevitably lead to “a depression”. The coffin from the EFF’s mock funeral is still there. And it’s now making its way through the crowd. Nice birthday.

12:52 We’re waiting for the programme to start at the Union Buildings. The People’s Bae is o the platform, rallying the crowd with a bit of singing. No, he’s not singing Happy Birthday. Here’s an update from Poplak:

 So here we are, several weeks into the Voetsek Revolution, and the first properly vast march is underway. It shouldn’t come as much surprise that its principal architect is Julius Sello Malema, the only politician who has the celebrity pull to organize something on this scale. The vibe on the streets is excessively pleasant, and the Fighters and their friends are disciplined and jacked up. The ANC is going to have a difficult time countering this narrative – the race card has played itself out in a matter of days. So far, not quite the scale of the Brazil marches, and nowhere near the crowds that unseated the South Korean president. But still – by recent local standards, big.

12:24 This really is utterly extraordinary. We’ve seen opposition parties linking arms and leading thousands, tens of thousands even, of people to the Union Buildings in protest against the country’s President. Meanwhile, what do you think Jacob Zuma is doing with himself on his birthday?

12:17 Looks like a failed attempt at making a kite. Top tips for kite-making: you need a light material. Symbolic of what people want the President to do?

12:11 The crowd is huge and growing. The march to the Union Buildings has begun. We’ve had five press releases in ten minutes from the ANC to, as Poplak puts it “try and change the narrative”. But the narrative is pretty strong. He estimates 30 000 people.

12:06 Ranjeni and Richard are both in the crowd, which continues to grow. 

Poplak says: “Biggest I’ve seen over the course of the anti-Zuma campaign”. And Ranjeni is having to shuffle.

12:02 Guys, South Africans are not here for being subtle. Rebecca Davis has just spotted these in the crowd

12:01 Over on eNCA, pundits were discussing the complicated matter of “well, but what is all this for?”. Well, shelve your cryptic cynicism, this is not just for a nice day off. Movements are a mark of a healthy democracy. And they do have power. South Korea is a prime example. We won’t mention Brazil because, well, as one of our straps say “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Pundits reckon all this civil action will be “the start of a movement”.

12:00: From Rebecca Davis – EFF leader Julius Malema is now addressing the crowd, paying tribute to the peaceful cooperation between opposition parties which is evident here. “We want to see a mixture of all parties hold hands together,” Malema said. He has also warned protesters to stick to the designated march route to the Union Buildings.

11:45: One thoughtful soul in Church Square has the following wish for President Zuma: “Happy birthday. Take a permanent holiday.” 

11:25: Poplak says the crowd is growing.

11:21 Meanwhile…birthday wishes.

11:19 The DA have arrived at Church Square and that coffin is still going.

11:08 The EFF are symbolically throwing a funeral for the ANC. As the kids would say, there is zero chill to be found here. TimesLive got this footage of it.

11:05 Various members of opposition parties are still speaking. We’ve had all sorts. Shosholoza has been appropriated to “Zuma you baleka” and we’ve had some “Phansi, Jacob Zupta” from Shivambu. Meanwhile, Davis has this update:

In an ironic twist, posters of a previous political gathering hosted by the pro-Gupta Black First Land First group are still visible around Church Square. “Hands off Advocate Mkhwebane”, one reads: a message of support for the new-ish Public Protector. “President Zuma, Fire Pravin Now!” says another.

10:49 Happy birthday, Mr. President!

10:45 Watching visuals here in Cape Town, I can confirm that it is indeed very festive. Lost of music and whooping. Opposition party leaders are each getting a few seconds on the podium and being introduced in what can only be described as boxing-ring style announcements. Music and hyping of the crowd by the EFF in between. 

10:25 Rebecca Davis is at Church Square and she has this update:

Church Square, and the sun has come out to welcome the protestors. Buses containing EFF supporters continue to stream into Pretoria central, monitored closely by police. But there’s no sign of trouble here: indeed, a bit of a festival atmosphere so far. Food stalls on the square are doing a roaring trade. If you’re up for purchasing some EFF merch, or a South African flag, that’s available too.

Oh, and bikes. There are bikes!

One recent addition to the SA protest scene has been the presence of very loud, revving motorbikes. They were all over Cape Town’s protest last Friday and they’re buzzing around Church Square today too. They function like hype men, energizing the crowd with their loud noise, but in this observer’s view, they’re also flipping annoying.

09:41 As the shirt would say, #FearFokol

09:39 Just like Friday’s march, there is a heavy police presence around the Union Buildings. Lots of barbed wired up and police nyalas everywhere. Meanwhile, Presidency says nothing to see here, move along and it will be “business as usual” for JZ.

09:22 People are starting to gather at Church Square.

09:01 For those of you elsewhere, it’s absolutely bucketing down up in Gauteng… but clear in Pretoria for now. Yes, we’re aware this is not the weather channel, but, you know… #blessings.

07:30 Good morning! We’re building up to another day of mass-action. Opposition parties and civil society will be marching from Church Square to the Union Buildings. Gathering is expected to begin at 09:00 with the march at 12:00. We’ve got reporters on the scene and will bring you all the updates. Oh, and it’s somebody’s birthday. DM

Photo:  A member of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) holds a placard during a mass protests to the Union Buildings calling for President Zuma to step down, Pretoria, South Africa, 12 April 2017. The African National Congress (ANC) have backed President Zuma saying he will not resign following calls from opposition parties, public officials and the public for his resignation. This follows mass action across the country last week in most major cities after President Zuma fired members of the cabinet including Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, sending the local currency, the Rand, to new lows against US Dollar. EPA/KIM LUDBROOKK


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted