Faith Daniels

When booing your president becomes a sign of a democracy

2017-05-09 09:10
President Jacob Zuma has been jeered by labour unionists and his speech was cancelled after scuffles broke out between his supporters and workers chanting for him to step down at the rally in Bloemfontein. (Khothatso Mokone, AP)

President Jacob Zuma has been jeered by labour unionists and his speech was cancelled after scuffles broke out between his supporters and workers chanting for him to step down at the rally in Bloemfontein. (Khothatso Mokone, AP)

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Much has been said about labour federation Cosatu’s failed May Day rally in Bloemfontein – and with good reason.

It was a highly embarrassing moment for President Jacob Zuma. Crowds could be heard shouting “Zuma must go” while the president looked on, flanked by the leaders of Cosatu and the SACP. Yes, flanked by the leaders of organisations calling on the very same president to leave office.

How this scenario could have been surprising to anyone is a mystery, because really, who goes to a gathering where you are clearly not welcome?

Zuma left that event without delivering his keynote address. The rally was no more – done for the day without anything said to those gathered.

But it seems it wasn’t embarrassing for the president at all. He responded to the incident at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban saying the following: “Protests, booing, debates, is part of the culture of democracy. Now unfortunately people misunderstand this, misread this. Now, as in political democracy, people engage heads of states, people criticise heads of states, they call for their removal etcetera because they are expressing freely. That’s the culture of democracy…”

Right there President Jacob Zuma answered the question on whether he will go. He might as well answer it like this: “Go where? For what?” His response reveals that this is a man who feels he has nothing to answer for – his track record shows as much: Nkandlagate, Nenegate, Guptagate, Gordhangate – all a distant memory.

It seems that we are the only ones still discussing it – the people, and the opposition parties; and of course, the voices of dissent from within the ruling party, who will be criticised and marginalised as soon as their press conferences are done.

Not even the pleas of the elders within that very ruling party are heard. The president has moved on. And he is not vacating his office anytime soon. We can protest as much as we like; we can express our views as freely as we like, it will not move Jacob Zuma one bit. We can boo as much as we like. All of these actions will be ascribed to a vibrant, healthy democracy at play.

It seems the president has made up his mind about what exactly is happening in his republic. It really has nothing to do with him. It has to do with all these freedoms that we have, and now we are just exercising our rights. Our democracy is maturing while we boo him from the sidelines. The booing is not really negative. For the first time in my life, booing has been somewhat sold as something that you can do that will be quite pleasing to someone else. “We welcome your booing as a sign of how free you are. Please continue.”

At the rate that things are unfolding, it seems we will really have to wait until December to see change setting in. We are being forced to wait until the ANC elective conference, and not a day sooner. But the ANC is playing a dangerous game. It’s hoping that an entire electorate will still be available next year to woo and listen to promises of a better life, and vote them into power again in 2019.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba cautiously answered a question on the not so far off elections at the World Economic Forum, saying no one knows what will happen in 2019. It was a telling statement, with no outright confidence displayed and no certainty that of course the ANC will be the party of choice and will remain in power. Perhaps it is an indication of things to come. Perhaps it is a sign of change to come, even if our president lives in Lala Land. And even if, that change might just come a bit later.

- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  malusi gigaba
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