World In View: South Africa protests

May 15, 2017

From the May-June 2017 issue of News & Letters

April witnessed mass protests against South African President Jacob Zuma (the “Zuma Must Fall” campaign). Tens of thousands demonstrated in the days leading to Zuma’s birthday, demanding his removal from office. In power since 2009, his rule has been dominated by corruption, a stagnant economy, family favoritism and crony capitalism.

The protests have been a multiparty opposition to the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Most prominent in the protests has been the Economic Freedom Fighters with its leader Julius Malema. Malema was the ANC youth league president before being expelled and founding the Economic Freedom Fighters as a political party and participating in elections. He speaks of the transfer of land and industry to South Africa’s poor black majority. How this could be implemented via the electoral route is not at all clear.

‘REBELLION OF THE POOR’Abahlali_baseMjondolo_Logo

What is clear is the deep dissatisfaction with Zuma’s rule and that of the ANC, the only ruling party since apartheid was struck down.  Unemployment is officially over 25% and rises even higher among segments of the population. South Africa has been called the protest capital of the world, with millions taking part every year in social-economic-political protests. A “rebellion of the poor” has characterized South Africa for a decade, centering in the poor shanty towns. A  “No Land! No House! No Vote!” campaign began more than a decade ago, calling for boycotting elections. Abahlali baseMjondolo, a grassroots organization, has been particularly active in this respect. In addition, other sectors of society have joined in protest, including workers inside and outside trade unions. In 2012, the Marikana miner strike, organized outside trade union auspices was viciously attacked, with 34 strikers killed by police, and 78 wounded.

Whether the vast protest movement will have a new beginning in the Zuma Must Fall campaign, and whether it can break out of electoral limitations, remains to be seen.

—Eugene Walker

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