By Rafieka Williams
Cape Town came to a stand still today as residents and workers in the city heeded to the call for a National Shutdown. Civic organisations called on all South Africans to come together, down tools and join hands in protest action on April 7th. The CBD was packed as an estimated twelve thousand people marched to Parliament with signs and flags calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down. With minimal incidents of violence, the march was peaceful, organised and fun.
In the tradition of protest in South Africa, there is a feeling of unease when one hears of protest action. The country has a strong history of protest where in the past people put their lives on the line for better living conditions but how do you protest if your living conditions are already satisfactory?
While many South Africans are angry about Jacob Zuma’s Presidency and his recent cabinet reshuffle, the issues that people face in the Cape Flats communities on a daily basis were sadly overlooked during today’s National Shutdown.
The main premise of today’s National Shutdown according to organisers, was for citizens to unite under one banner and call for President Jacob Zuma to resign. There were no official speeches made or any memorandums handed over to any minister at Parliament, just concerned citizens doing their bit to change South Africa. With an estimated twelve thousand people in attendance, it was clear that people had heeded to the call but who were these people?
Along Mowbray main road, there were employees from the nearby UCT, members of the Mowbray Baptist Church and even from businesses along the main road but the crowd that stood out were people from the Ons Plek homeless shelter who said that their funding has been affected deeply by the impact of the cabinet reshuffle. While most people were standing silently holding their signs this group of people showed their anger and used their voice in resonant songs of struggle.
Meanwhile on the corner of Kromboom Road and Jan Smuts avenue people had come out in slightly lesser numbers.
Crowds gathered in Cape Town CBD from all corners of the city, meeting at Keizergracht and City Hall before the march commenced to Parliament. People brought their dogs, Parents brought their children, musicians brought the guitars, artists brought their paint and everyone brought their selfie sticks.
During the march the overall sentiment was anger directed at President Jacob Zuma but not the over-arching problems that South Africans face every single day. The crowd was visibly angered to the point of using defamatory language on their signs.
The Democratic Alliance in Cape Town also gathered up their members from the party along with Mayor Patricia De Lille and made their way from City Hall to meet up with civic organisations at Parliament.
Police were also visible but they didn’t have much to do as the marshals from the social coalitions did their utmost to make sure that peace and order was maintained.
More than anything the march turned out to be more of a fun festival than a protest.
It was no secret that the protest march was driven by a middle class agenda. People lined the streets with their placards and sang for Zuma to fall and when they got tired of standing in front of Parliament they dispersed and made their way to Long Street and other social hang outs in the Cape Town CBD. While in Johannesburg and Pretoria, there may have been an array of representation, those who drive the political, economic and social agenda in Cape Town made their voice heard.
The call for unity made by civic organisations to speak out against President Jacob Zuma was certainly heard by the middle to upper echelons of Cape Town. Although there may be merit in the cause for the President to resign, one has to question whether the rainbow nation approach to achieving a better South Africa has any value when numbers of citizens in Cape Town, only take action when their privilege is threatened. What value does unity have if the destitute and marginalised continue to be excluded from visibility.