Hard of hearing

2017-04-25 07:40

FOR those who think public protests are a waste of time, let us not forget that the nine months of protests in Libya in 2011 led to the end of 42 years of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorial rule.

The grass-roots rebellion was, of course, fuelled by foreign meddling, but Gaddafi ignored the tell-tale signs that the people of his country were fed up.

Gaddafi had a number of colourful ways of dismissing the protests and was convinced that he was invincible.

He called the protesters “rats” and “cockroaches”, and accused his opponents of being under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs that were put into drinks and pills.

Gaddafi vowed to chase down the protesters and cleanse the country “house by house”. “Those who don’t love me do not deserve to live”, was one of the more memorable quotes of the Brother Leader.

It was this disconnect from the society he led and his refusal to hear the voices of his people that led to his downfall.

South Africa under President Jacob Zuma is a far cry from Libya under Gaddafi.

We have a fully fledged democracy with credible elections, functional institutions and a Constitution that protects our nation. But we are a society in a state of crisis where our elected leaders are no longer serving the interests of the people and are abusing their access to power to benefit a few well-connected individuals.

Last month’s Cabinet reshuffle was evidence of this and had the effect of sabotaging our economy, prompting two ratings downgrades.

Because of the callous actions of our president, the people of this country will be exposed to greater hardship. South Africa’s junk status means basic survival will be even more difficult for millions of South Africans.

Public anger has led to a wave of protests against the president.

In reaction to the countrywide protests on April 7, Zuma claimed they were a demonstration of racism.

“Many placards and posters displayed beliefs that we thought had been buried in 1994, with some posters depicting black people as baboons,” the president said.

“It is clear that some of our white compatriots regard black people as being lesser human beings or sub-human.”

Besides this being a contradiction of what he has said previously, that South Africa does not have a problem of racism as there are only a handful of racists in the country, it is alarming how the president insulated himself from the messages being conveyed at the marches.

Despite the marches receiving widespread media coverage, it is also bizarre that only Zuma noticed racist posters. But it is also distressing that the president took refuge behind a serious phenomenon besetting our society with the aim of churning up emotions among his supporters against the protesters.

A march to the Union Buildings led by opposition parties on April 12 drew an estimated 100 000 people, the majority of whom were black.

Zuma’s narrative changed when there was no evidence to back up his claim that the protests were driven by racism.

At a church service in Umgababa on Easter Sunday, Zuma claimed the protests were against radical economic transformation and land expropriation without compensation. He said people are trying to remove him from power because he is trying to transform the economy and for “telling the truth”.

“Now you must be removed because you are trying to make black people wiser,” Zuma said.

“You saw the people in those marches‚ the type of people who have never marched before.”

It must take special qualities for Zuma to shut off the voices of thousands of people in society, including those of religious leaders, veterans and civil-society activists.

He should remember that history is replete with examples of leaders who refused to pay attention to the discontent of the people and paid the price. Delusional excuses for popular rebellion do not make public anger go away.

Gaddafi found that out the hard way.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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