#ZumaMustFall: the awkward position of a problematic movement

This past week has been an interesting one in South Africa’s history. We have had a grand total of three finance ministers in one week. Nhlanhla Nene was fired last Thursday and was replaced by David van Rooyen. When the rand plummeted to record lows in the wake of Zuma’s latest reshuffling, people across South Africa expressed their outrage and a #ZumaMustFall march was quickly arranged for later on this week. Just when we were beginning to feel as though Zuma had done enough this week, he goes and reappoints Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Finance. Suffice to say, South Africans have now learned that if you go to bed too early, you might wake up to find that Cabinet has been reshuffled again.

Before I continue, I would like to make it clear that I believe that Jacob Zuma is a terrible president who has made terrible decisions and will run this country to the ground if left unchecked. Despite all that has happened, I do still have some (perhaps optimistic) faith in the ANC. I still think that the ANC’s ideologies are the most nuanced, especially when compared to the ideologies of opposition parties such as the DA and the EFF. But that being said, I cannot ignore that there are dangerous levels of corruption and incompetence within the party. The ANC has rot that runs deep and the longer they remain in power, the deeper that rot gets.

Jacob Zuma’s decision to remove Nene and replace him with the admittedly ill qualified David van Rooyen was just another example of how for Zuma, he, the ANC, and even Dudu Myeni come before the country. And for many South Africans, while this wasn’t the most offensive thing that Zuma or the ANC has ever done it was the final straw. And on that count, I fully agree that Zuma needs to go. If social media is anything to go by, so do the majority of South Africans.

That being said, there are a number of issues I’ve found within the #ZumaMustFall campaign. The issues are perhaps best encapsulated by this petition which has already gained over 26 000 signatures. The petition calls for Zuma to step down and, besides the fact that it is poorly written and reasoned, it gives a number of racist and xenophobic arguments which include stating that foreign nationals are “stealing all our jobs”, that Zuma “allowed the immigrants in so they could vote for him”, and that South Africa is worse now than it ever was under Apartheid. Because apparently, a government that oppresses the majority of your population, purposefully keeps them poor and unskilled so they can be exploited as cheap labour, and commits human rights abuses on a daily basis against them, which included torture, is perfectly alright as long as it makes sure that white people are living comfortable lives.

The reason I point to this petition in particular is that it is one of the clearest examples of the strong racist and classist undercurrent running in the #ZumaMustFall campaign. Now, these undercurrents haven’t popped up out of nowhere. For years now, I have heard people speaking of ANC voters and working class black people using overtly classist and racist rhetoric. A popular one is this idea that everyone who votes for the ANC is doing so because they are stupid/uneducated and it is therefore the task of Good Liberal Whites everywhere to venture into the deepest darkest townships of South Africa so they can teach the poor black people there how to think, because Lord knows they can’t do it for themselves. Or, if they’re more honest about their racism and classism they can simply either state or strongly imply that “certain people” shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all.

And let’s make it clear: the #ZumaMustFall campaign and Pravin Gordhan’s reappointment is strongly guided by middle class, white, interests. Zuma and the ANC have been messing things up for a long time but until now, their incompetence has primarily affected poor black people. Now, with the rand plummeting to record lows on Thursday night, foreign investments and white capital was directly effected. Many of the people I have seen preparing to march for Zuma’s resignation this week were the very same people who a few weeks ago were calling student protesters”hooligans” during the #FeesMustFall protests. They were the same people criminalising the miners for being lazy and violent during the Marikana Massacre. They are the same people who have rolled their eyes and spoken about how this country is going to the dogs every time poor black people have protested for basic service delivery or a liveable wage.


And so, I’m stuck in an awkward position. I must now argue both with ANC enthusiast’s who believe that the government and the president is beyond reproach and I must argue with people who are using the #ZumaMustFall campaign as a vehicle to express their politically correct racism. Once again I must ask myself whether I should disassociate myself completely from this movement or swallow my discomfort and anger and march along for Zuma’s resignation knowing that yes, #ZumaMustFall is problematic as hell, but we need to deal with Zuma NOW. It’s a difficult position, and I feel that it is an unfair one at that. Because as a born-free black woman I should not still be having to sit down and explain to the very same people I’m supposed to be marching side by side with, that all black people, not just the ones who act and sound like them, are human beings deserving of respect too.

Yet this is the position we find ourselves in in 2015.

Honestly, I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do.