Friday April 7 belonged to the people of South Africa, as citizens of every age, race, culture and religion came together to deliver one message: President Jacob Zuma must go.
Mr Zuma’s presidency has been dogged by scandal and allegations of widespread corruption. The last straw for many was his decision to recall Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Mr Gordhan’s deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, in the middle of an overseas investor roadshow and then axe them, along with several other ministers and deputy ministers, during a late-night cabinet reshuffle on Thursday March 30.
Shortly afterwards, ratings agencies Standard&Poor’s and Fitch downgraded the country’s credit rating to junk status citing Mr Gordhan’s dismissal as one of the reasons for this.
As protesters took to city streets last week, it was clear the push back from civil society had started. And far south residents were determined to be part of it. Strangers met with smiles and steady resolve, and made their voices heard. And they did it peacefully, hand in hand, with song and dance and chants.
Motorists decked out their cars with flags in a rare show of patriotism and ignited cheers with every hoot as they passed the crowds.
From Ocean View to Lakeside, from all over Cape Town and all across the country they came in their thousands.
Jean Archibald, of Fish Hoek, said her sign said it all: “Enough is enough”. It was strung around her neck so she could hold onto the handles of her crutches, but she was there.
Chandre Taylor brought her little nephew to the protest and said she was thrilled to see Fish Hoek respond so fervently.
In Ocean View, people asked if Masiphumelele was marching, and pleaded for gang warfare in their area to end. All they wanted, they said, was a safe place for their children and old people to live.
But there was no marching in Masiphumelele, and an angry message posted on social media by Dumzani Nhlapo, one of the township’s leaders, the night before the protests, made it clear that he believed the anti-Zuma campaign was mostly supported by those who had failed to make their voices heard when miners were gunned down at Marikana or when Western Cape premier Helen Zille tweeted about the benefits of colonialism.
“We as Masi, won’t support this march. Come too near to us and we will throw stones at you and even shoot you if we can. We won’t support this nonsense, we are busy fighting for our land, and we are not getting any support from you valley people.”
For others, though, the day was about reaching across social and political divides and putting other issues aside, at least for now, to deal with what many felt was the immediate threat posed by Mr Zuma staying in office.
In Muizenberg, Leslene Louw and Ursula Brown both said: “It’s time, Zuma must go. He must fall.”
One woman, who didn’t give her name, made the point that, ironically, Mr Zuma had united the entire country, albeit against him and his actions. “May it be his last act though,” she said.
People lined the Main Road in a human chain all the way from Muizenberg station to beyond the Masque Theatre. And from there, in scattered clumps, all the way to Cape Town and Parliament.
They carried signs “Save South Africa”, “Give Us Back Our Country”, “Zuma Must Fall”, “Zupta Must Go”, “End State Capture”, “Deliver Us From Evil”.
They waved the national flag and they chanted and danced and sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, black and white together.
“Lord protect our nation,
Stop wars and sufferings,
Protect it, Protect our nation,
The nation of South Africa, South Africa.”
Cars and trucks drove past the protesters and honked their horns, and the people in the cars waved flags and shouted, “Save South Africa”, and the people lining the road shouted, “Save South Africa” back at them.
For many, it was the first anti-government protest they had ever joined; and many said it would not be the last.