When our President threw the entire country into crisis by reshuffling his cabinet in the dead of night, there was outrage across the political divide. The business community was horrified and the man on the street was left feeling shocked, without necessarily understanding the far reaching consequences of this unilateral decision. Civil society organisations moved quickly to channel the widespread anger by calling on citizens to take to the streets on 7 April 2017.
The Democratic Alliance once again prepared for a vote of no confidence to be urgently tabled before Parliament and planned to march to the Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters. When certain members of the MK Military Veterans and ANC Youth League threatened to meet such a protest with violence, the Democrats decided to change their initial route. Organisations, such as SA1st and Save SA, planned marches all over the country, including a big march in the capital, Pretoria.
It didn’t take long, however, for divisions to surface.
“Until whites march for the redistribution of land, we will not march for the removal of the President,” some said.
Another group said, “What’s the point of marching if Zuma will still be the President come Monday morning?”
A Pro-Zuma faction deflected, claiming that “This is a white monopoly capital agenda.”
Some youths shouted, “Where were the whites when we marched for #FeesMustFall?” Even in the face of a national crisis, we seemed divided – a testament to just how deeply wounded we are.
Julius Malema, Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), once called on those of us who complain on social media without ever stepping out of our comfort zone, to challenge the government out on the streets. His rhetoric and strategy have always been to challenge the status quo by making us feel uncomfortable about what we’ve become accustomed to. He forces us to have those difficult conversations. For these reasons, I’ve come to realise that the EFF also has a crucial role to play in our journey towards political maturity.
I wrestled with the many arguments put forward, as Julius Malema’s voice remained constant in the back of my head. One day I thought to myself, the youth will ask me: “What did you do when then-President Zuma and his supporters gambled with our country’s future?”
For far too long I have been one of those social media critics, offering strongly worded opinions and criticism, but never really getting stuck in beyond the comfort of my couch. Not this time. Despite all the divisive talk, I decided it was time to take a stand and join the thousands that planned to make their voices heard. As long as you know why you are going out there tomorrow, and you do so with our country’s best interests at heart, it will be worth it, I told myself.
My poster read #SouthAfricaRise! You are not my President!
Upon arrival at the James & Ethel Gray Park, Melrose North, I was comforted to see a steady increase in numbers as South Africans converged. My friend, Carin, was running late, but I reminded myself that this was not a social appointment. At about 09:50, the crowd suddenly began to move. Some people came from different directions, their intent clear. They joined us and we made our way down to Corlett Drive, and then turned towards Melrose Arch.
I was surrounded by South Africans from all walks of life, and yet, strangely, I felt alone. My mind occupied by how this day will be remembered in days and weeks to come. There I was with my red Unisa backpack and black Play Your Part t-shirt, and yet despite the crowds, I felt alone.
Where the Atholl Oaklands Road crosses over the M1 highway, the crowd stopped.
A couple of young South Africans, perhaps organisers, sensing the need to infuse the gathering with gees began to sing and chant. At one point we sang a version of Senzeni na with an added verse of “Zuma must go”. At this point I found myself right in the middle of the large crowd, and yet the loneliness didn’t leave me. JMPD and SAPS officers arrived on the scene to help direct traffic while monitoring the crowd.
I spotted my friend’s sister, Tanya, a few metres away. For the first time that morning, I didn’t feel alone. We hugged and took a selfie, which I later sent to her brother who was unable to join us. When I lost sight of her in the crowd, the loneliness returned.
Carin finally arrived, and that strange sense of isolation disappeared. She was wearing a white t-shirt depicting the African continent with Madiba’s face superimposed onto it. The caption read: “Are you still with me?” referring to the former President. A profound question, given the current state of affairs. All of a sudden, perhaps out of a need to put my friend at ease and embrace the reason why I came out, I began to voice my own thoughts.
“Makahambe!” I shouted. “He must go!” My friend found this amusing and joined in, which helped settle my own eerie discomfort.
A couple of metres away from us stood a man, probably old enough to be my father. He wore a black t-shirt with the outlines of the South African flag in white on the front, and on the back it said: “Our Souls are not for sale #southafricamustrise”. He wasn’t chanting, and appeared to have come alone. His face was filled with a sadness I couldn’t quite explain. Clearly, this was not the South Africa he dreamt of back in the dark days of apartheid. Perhaps he had lost family members during the violent eighties and early nineties. Either way, the look on his face made my heart weep. I quietly shook his hand out of respect and recognition of the sacrifices his generation made.
What will I remember of this day? It won’t be the mothers who pushed prams or youths who walked around with flags draped over their shoulders, fluttering in the gentle breeze. It will be that strange sensation of walking alongside my fellow South Africans yet feeling alone. How is it that we could all march together, yet be so divided?
What will I remember of this day? It won’t be the fact that this was my first act of protest against our democratically elected government. It will be the message on my friend’s t-shirt. Somewhere between 1994 and 7 April 2017 we lost our way. What will I remember of this day? It’s the sadness of a man old enough to be my father who stood alone in the middle of a crowd of fellow countrymen and women.
Tell us what you think: Have you participated in a march? What was it for?