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Standing together for the greater good

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Last week saw the biggest uprising of “people power” in South Africa in recent history. President Jacob Zuma shocked the country when he reshuffled his cabinet, firing finance minister Pravin Gordhan and deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, sending the Rand plummeting from an already weak level and resulting in a ratings downgrade for the country. This seemed to be the final straw for South Africa’s populace, which took to the streets in protest.

While the cabinet reshuffled was initially criticised by business, civil society, opposition parties, and the ANC, it morphed into an opportunity for South Africans from all walks of life to openly show their dissatisfaction with the president – who has been accused of numerous crimes, and is generally considered to be a puppet of the wealthy Gupta family.

The protests, which saw around 60 000 people demonstrating across the country, were supported by civil organisations such as Save SA, political organisations like the DA, and independent concerned citizens. Despite the fact that the ANC pooh-pooed the effect the marches had, they served the purpose of publicising to the world that South Africans were not taking the situation lying down.

Even an offshoot of the hacker group Anonymous seemed to be throwing their weight behind the movement, publishing a video on a YouTube channel titled Anonymous South Africa. “We have heard the people’s cries and will no longer stand by and watch,” the video says. “No Government should use their power for their own gain. President, Jacob Zuma has failed you and even cries from within the African National Congress itself have been heard.”

The mass movement has subsequently been called “racist” by the president. “The marches that took place last week demonstrated that racism is real and exists in our country. It is clear that some of our white compatriots regard black people as being lesser human beings,” he said. Despite the fact that some black people have commented that the marches indicated that white South Africans are only prompted to political action when it affects their back pockets, the president’s racist accusation has been dismissed by most of the country.

Criticism of the president’s new cabinet have continued, with further mass action being planned in the coming weeks.

Regardless of the racial and political elements involved in the situation, there is one thing the entire country agrees on: President Zuma is responsible for tanking the country’s economy. Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA), one of the many organisations to have publically expressed its dismay with the cabinet reshuffle, said “it sends out a disturbing message on rewarding mediocrity and punishing excellence”.

The president’s actions have weakened the economy and the currecy in the past, most notably when he replaced former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with Des van Rooyen in December 2015. Today, South Africa’s debt level is the highest it has ever been, and economic growth has slowed to just above 0%. At the same time, government spending is increasing.

Under Zuma, South Africa’s credit ratings from major agencies has declined significantly, and economists are predicting that the downgrade will ultimately result in a recession. While people taking to the streets is unlikely to impact on any decisions in the higher echelons of power, last week’s mass movement offered a ray of hope for our beleaguered country: For the first time since the 1990’s, South Africans are standing together for the greater good.

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