Zuma booing incident: the start of a very public rebellion

2013-12-11 09:32

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What goes around, comes around – sometimes in the form of a soccer substitution sign. And for those who missed it when the big screens in the FNB Stadium showed President Jacob Zuma arriving the first time, the booing was repeated at least four more times, when Zuma’s face appeared on the screen.

To add insult to injury, even the less popular former president FW de Klerk was cheered.

By the time Zuma stepped out on the podium to deliver his keynote address towards the end of the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the crowd, however, seemed to have run out of boos.


They were either too tired, or too thinned out – many had left, and some tweeted about former police commissioner Bheki Cele’s intimidating appearance in the crowd.

Yesterday’s politicking was a rude awakening because, for four days, everybody’s energy and attention had been focused on mourning and celebrating Mandela. For a while, people united across political divides, and Nkandla disappeared off the news pages.

For example, yesterday morning, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi stood in a coffee queue with journalists. Although it was supposed to have been D-day for his release of the ministerial investigations report into Nkandla (the release has been postponed now, like the fight), nobody really hassled him about it.

Last week, before Mandela’s death diverted the news, many ANC activists reported their deep unhappiness with the persistent scandals emerging around the taxpayer-funded R240 million upgrades of Zuma’s Nkandla home, which they are struggling to explain to unhappy voters.

Some have threatened to air these matters during the ANC national executive committee meeting and list conference that were due to take place over the past weekend. These were postponed to next week.

Yesterday’s booing dragged us right back into the dirty mud pit of politics, which will resume next week when the ANC’s leaders meet.

Nkandla isn’t on the agenda, but it may arise, while there will also be some tough discussions about the divisions in union federation Cosatu.

Zuma might be sitting pretty right now, being the face of the ANC’s elections campaign (on the back of a resolution taken in Mangaung last year, assured of a second term). But although those booing were apparently ANC members, the party’s share of the vote is widely predicted to drop next year in the light of the breakaway Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema; as well as the DA’s growing credibility.

This could strengthen the resolve of those within the party to replace him by the time the party’s next conference comes around in 2017 (should he be running for another term in the party – there are currently no indications that he will not) – or even before that. The recall of Thabo Mbeki, ironically, set a precedent for that.

Even though the booing reflected as badly on those who disrupted the Mandela memorial as it did on Zuma, there was apparently a bit of a scramble in the host province, the Gauteng ANC, to do damage control. Provincial secretary David Makhura issued a tweet condemning it, and the provincial executive committee convened a meeting soon after proceedings ended yesterday.

Depending on how much of a hand the anti-Zuma province had in the booing, there is sure to be consequences.

Zuma is currently too powerful and his challenger isn’t apparent enough for him to have any immediate fears. But yesterday’s booing, as the world was watching, can be considered to be the start of a very public rebellion, and a gentle nudge to Zuma to either up his game of quelling dissent in the party if he wants to hang on until 2017 at least – or to start packing his bags.

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