Zuma crowd well behaved - survey

2008-08-07 00:00

THE drama of the two days of the Jacob Zuma hearings in Pietermaritzburg this week took place outside the high court.

The proceedings before Judge Chris Nicholson were just a sideshow to a spectacle of South African-style democracy in action. The ANC president himself was merely a supporting player.

Events outside the courtroom took centre stage as ANC supporters gathered in their thousands in Freedom Square to vindicate their choice — made in Polokowane nine months before — of the man to lead them to victory in the elections in 2009.

Busloads of people from as far away as Limpopo and North West provinces debated the Zuma trial and its implications in an atmosphere of tolerance and solidarity throughout the three days, including the Sunday preceding the hearing.

That the rally went off peacefully and in a climate of restraint “is perhaps a sign that democracy in South Africa is maturing, or that the African National Congress is taking greater control of the people talking in its name,” according to Mervyn Abrahams, who observed the events for a coalition of church and civil society organisations led by the KwaZulu-Natal Council of Churches.

Abrahams said positive feedback has emerged from the coalition’s survey of the crowd’s mood and behaviour. A team of 10 ministers from various church denominations was deployed to take the pulse of the mass rally.

They monitored the songs and the speeches and listened to conversations in the crowd and on the peripheries of the capital during the vigil on the Sunday night, the hearings on Monday and Tuesday, and especially the times when Zuma emerged from the court to address them.

The survey is an

initiative of the KwaZulu-Natal Democracy and Election Forum, which groups the KZN Council of Churches and its chapters in Tugela and Ladysmith, the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness, the Durban-based Democracy Development Programme and other civil society organisations.

The observer team estimates that between 5 000 and 6 000 people came to show their support for Zuma, and that hundreds more came to hear the ANC president and Alliance leaders speak while the hearings went on.

They found that the crowd was largely good-natured. Conversations overheard were largely positive and constructive; there were hardly any violent or criminal incidents; freedom of movement, association and expression were respected. Policemen and ANC crowd marshals were highly visible and strategically positioned, the team observed, doing a “commendable” job to ensure that peace and security prevailed.

“People were passionate in their support for Jacob Zuma,” said Abrahams. “But the situation was dealt with fairly well, considering that the gathering had come against the background of extreme statements from the ANC Youth League, the Young Communists and other Alliance leaders.”

While lawyers for Zuma and the state were agreeing in court that they would try to prevent further delays in the proceedings, SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande was telling the crowd outside the court that the judicial delays were holding up the ANC president’s campaign to fight the election next year.

“Zuma managed to calm people down, and the senior ANC and Alliance leaders present were generally responsible in their statements,” said Abrahams. “It’s good for democracy to have opposing views, as long as it doesn’t lead to violence and intimidation.”

Said Mvela Dlamini, another observer: “The revolutionary songs that the people sang were not inflammatory or directed at any ANC leaders.”

Abrahams noted that only one “unfortunate” event — “when unruly elements shot out one of the courtroom windows” after Zuma’s departure — had spoiled what he called “an otherwise good exercise in crowd control”.

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