A recent attack on the Save SA camp outside the treasury’s headquarters in Pretoria has garnered more support for the campaign to have President Jacob Zuma step down and is likely to lead to the group continuing to occupy the space until he does, Save SA said.
The camp takes up a section of Church Square and was initially set up under the #OccupyTreasury campaign by Save SA.
On Wednesday night, between 10 and 15 people stormed the area and damaged a gazebo belonging to the Marikana Support Campaign and torched the organisation’s banners. A Save SA representative has since opened a case against the ANC, accusing its local councillors and branch members of being behind the move.
“I think the attack was provoked by the success we’ve had in mobilising people in the townships on Wednesday morning, organising buses and other grassroots movements,” Save SA’s Rehad Desai told the Mail & Guardian this week.
“The camp will grow and we will keep it going until the next Wednesday, when another big demonstration is scheduled to happen. There’s a chance that the camp will stay up,” he added.
Dozens of civil society groups, unions, religious bodies and business representatives led by Save SA will on Friday march from Church Square, where they have been camping since Monday, to the Union Building’s lawns.
Save SA convenor and Anglo Gold Ashanti chairperson Sipho Pityana has promised the “biggest march Zuma has ever seen”, but organisers have made a more conservative estimate of 10 000 people joining the demonstration.
Desai also hit back at ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s doubts that some people who would take part in the protests are ANC members.
“Most of the people who are going to be marching tomorrow are ANC people and many inside the camp are ANC,” Desai said.
The so-called people’s march will happen in five cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban, but the biggest turnout is expected at Zuma’s office.
Support for Friday’s demonstration was bolstered on Thursday morning when Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) told trade union federation Fedusa that it would not take punitive action against workers who chose to take part in the protests, the federation’s general secretary, Dennis George, said.
“BLSA said they understand the state of South Africa,” George said, adding that “Zuma is the main problem in South Africa. Our mandate is that we must mobilise for Cape Town when they have the motion of no confidence against Zuma on April 18. We will continue mobilising workers until Zuma steps down.”
Fedusa members will march alongside the newly-registered South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) organised by metalworkers union Numsa and worker leader Zwelinzima Vavi, one of Zuma’s most outspoken critics.
Vavi this week announced plans by the new federation to challenge’s Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle in court, arguing that it was not done in compliance with the Constitution.
“The main reason for filing a court challenge is that Zuma has once acted against the interests of the country in direct contradiction with his oath in which he swears to act in the best interest of the country,” Vavi said.
Business Unity South Africa, which represents the majority of companies in the country, said it had advised its member companies to decide for themselves whether they would allow employees to take to the streets.
But chief executive Tanya Cohen said they would not go as far as supporting Save SA and the other organisations’ calls.
“We want to exert pressure to get ethical and accountable leadership. We aren’t asking for the president to step down but we want accountable leadership.”
On Thursday, the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) also called an urgent meeting between business, government and labour to “discuss the situation facing the economy and instability as a result of the [S&P] downgrade to [junk status],” Cohen told the M&G.
The discussion included a potential national strike by Saftu’s unions, which represent about 700 000 workers. An urgent application for a section 77 application for a general strike was heard at Nedlac on Thursday and Vavi said he hoped a dispute would be declared by the end of the day, clearing the way for a demonstration next Wednesday.
Vavi is hoping to reinvigorate the Unite Against Corruption movement, which marched to Union Buildings two years ago. The participants include the Methodist and Anglican Churches, Section 27, the Marikana Support Campaign, Equal Education, the Treatment Action Campaign and other nongovernmental organizations.
Opposition parties taking part in Friday’s demonstration include the Democratic Alliance, which is marching in Johannesburg, the Congress of the People, United Democratic Movement and other smaller parties who will be present in Pretoria.
ANC-aligned trade union federation Cosatu and apolitical workers body National Council of Trade Unions will not be joining the demonstrations.
But another ANC ally, the South African Communist Party (SACP), said it would be taking to the streets on its own. The SACP will not support the Save SA initiative and, instead, it plans to march from Marabastad in Tshwane to the treasury’s headquarters.
Spokesperson Alex Mashilo was coy about whether the SACP supported the different protests.
“We ourselves made a call for [Zuma] to resign, it was not an easy decision. We had hoped the situation would improve, but unfortunately we are moving from one crisis to another. South Africans have their own rights, so we can’t march and condemn others, as long as they do so within the confines of the law,” Mashilo said.
Despite the broad support for the march, the threat of violence looms large, Desai cautioned.
“This defensive posture and the ANC’s language of ‘army, soldiers and the enemy’ can only stoke further polarisation and further violence,” he said.
“The other side is in complete panic mode, that’s why they are so dangerous. This flows from that ANC Youth League rally in Germiston and the Congress of South African Students and South African Students Congress speeches [warning that they would defend Luthuli House with sjamboks]. Anywhere else those people would be in prison, but they are in charge of the government,” Vavi added.