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Political Tensions Continue to Rise in South Africa

Demonstrators protest against South African President Jacob Zuma’s decision to fire Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, in Cape Town, South Africa [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

 The past week in South Africa has been fraught with political tensions and social melodrama that has, at times, resembled farce. President Jacob Zuma recalled Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and others from a key global economic roadshow (and recalled the deputy finance minister who was actually still in the country), amid rumors of a major Cabinet reshuffle.

That reshuffle was delayed by the nation’s outpouring of grief at the passing of veteran anti-apartheid leader Ahmed Kathrada, one of the very few ANC members who have had the temerity and courage to publicly criticize the kleptocrat president and his allies for their depredations on the public purse.

The reshuffle, including the axing of Gordhan and his deputy, was announced after midnight on Thursday and South Africans consumed widespread outrage along with their breakfast on the morning of April 1.

But, this was no April Fool’s joke, attested to by calls to #OccupyTreasury to coincide with Gordhan’s final address to the Treasury staff.

Unprecedented announcements by the country’s deputy president, the ANC’s secretary general and the party’s treasurer that there had been no consultation on the new Cabinet appointments led to much speculation that the new Cabinet would serve the interests of the Gupta family, Indian expats who were the main subject of the 2016 Public Protector’s report into allegations of state capture.

Civic indignation

Civic indignation was exacerbated when the state memorial service for the former Robben Islander, Kathrada, was postponed indefinitely. The Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Kathrada Foundation subsequently decided to go ahead with a civil society commemoration in conjunction with the provincial arm of the ANC, trade union groupings and other organizations.

On Saturday, Johannesburg City Hall was packed to the rafters with people of all ages, races, political affiliations and backgrounds. Kathrada would have been delighted by this coming together that felt like a throwback to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the United Democratic Front (UDF) managed to achieve broad-based mobilization against the then-apartheid regime.

Kathrada’s widow, Barbara Hogan, herself a lifelong activist and former minister, reiterated her husband’s public plea to the president to step down last year, telling Zuma: “You have sacrificed everything we have stood for on the altar of corruption, greed and more greed. … If you had ears to hear, you wouldn’t have appointed four finance ministers in less than two years.”

She went on to lambaste Zuma’s inaction on the recent furor over the non-payment of social services grants to indigent South Africans, and was scathing about the nuclear deal proposed for South Africa, which will allegedly benefit Zuma and the Guptas. To loud applause, Hogan concluded: “Mr. President, this country is not for sale and a people united will never be defeated.”

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