Active citizenry must organise for change

South Africans currently appear to be rising up as active citizens with the primary aim of removing Jacob Zuma as the President of the Republic whilst others support and advocate for him to remain in office. The question boils down to which group of advocates or lobbyists will succeed in their goal and achieve the result they want.

The critical question is whether they have thought through their strategies and designed their action platform in a manner that will create support amongst the majority of South Africans. Which group will achieve their goal?

In the grouping calling for the President’s removal there are a series of actions ranging from the Black Monday Campaign, Occupy Church Square Campaign coordinated by Save South Africa, Zuma Must Fall Campaign, Street Party Revolution Facebook Campaign on 7th April, Call for a national stay away campaign, Nobodies Campaign and the multi-party alliance campaign. The opposition campaign includes the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Democratic Alliance (DA), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Congress of the People (COPE), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and United Democratic Movement (UDM).  Many role players mentioned above have been working towards this single goal since Parliament elected President Jacob Zuma in 2015.

In recent days the alliance partners in the governing configuration, namely the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have also made a public call for President Zuma to step down.

The actions that are being undertaken by this camp include public and group (101 Stalwarts) letters by individuals (Ahmed Kathrada) for media distribution, utilising memorials for political messaging, public protests (albeit quite small in numbers to date), social media organising, petitions, legal action, press conferences, individual political statements by public figures, political analysts on television, radio and print, and letter writing and phone calls to individual politicians.

The various groups supporting the President include the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and the Women’s League, Black First Land First Movement (BLFM), ANN7 political commentators, individuals from the Fees Must Fall movement and various other anti-neo-colonial individuals and groups.

Their actions have included television appearances, press conferences, social media advocacy and lately mass meetings. It has also been argued the recent Cabinet reshuffle has also been part of the political strategies to ensure President Zuma remains in office.

At this point it seems highly unlikely that President Zuma will step down as many have called him to do.  Since the 18th century only 59 leaders and 7 deputy leaders of all the countries in the world have resigned. It is very unclear as to whether the ANC will – as it did with President Thabo Mbeki – recall the president of the ANC from public office.

The optimism around the possibility of a Vote of No Confidence in Parliament requires a large number of ANC Members of Parliament to put their political careers on the line and there is much speculation as to whether that is likely.

The key difference between the two groups on either side of the divide is what their grassroots support is. Country leaders who have resigned due to public pressure are few. If the formal political system supports one grouping over another, it is this factor which will ultimately be the difference.

The ANC grouping can easily bring a large number of people – likely to be 96% black which can be used to legitimately support their goal of keeping the President in office.

Whereas to date the first grouping in this article has been unable to deliver large numbers in public action and is very vulnerable to the critique of being an elitist and White/Indian cabal supporting an agenda of White Monopoly Capital (WMC). It is perhaps only the opposition political parties which can deliver the numbers required for protests that can serve as pressure points unless Cosatu also joins the civil society grouping.

Active citizenship relies on long term community organising for an idea rooted in common values.  Citizen movements such as these can then be easily accessed to support a particular action of strategic importance.

It requires active citizens that can analyse the political environment in a strategic manner which will enable sophisticated advocacy messaging, as opposed to hostile messaging which seems to inform some of the campaigns currently in South Africa. This results in the alienation of many that may have been allies and supported actions to achieve the goal of the removal of the President.

Ultimately the depth of active citizenry in any grouping is what can lead to the achievement of any advocacy initiative.

If Zuma stays in office the strategic institutional active citizenship within the ANC will have won the day. It will be a message to others that they need to deepen their organising attempts and move beyond assuming that virtual support can translate into successful political action.

If Zuma does fall it will be as a result of a multiplicity of active citizen strategic tactics that have been successfully coordinated behind closed doors.

Whichever grouping you assign your loyalties to – the key issue is strategise, organise and advocate in cooperation with others in order to achieve your democratic political goals.

Yvette Geyer is a consultant in the field of governance and democracy.  She has over 20 years’ experience covering a range of specialities such as elections, local government, safety and security, youth development, gender, anti-racism, transitional politics, HIV/Aids, water, civil society and policy development. Her skill set includes qualitative and quantitative research, training, facilitation, curriculum development and project management.  She has a BA in Political Sciences and an MA in Public Development Management.

To read publications by Yvette Geyer on our website please click here.

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