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Nicola's Notes: Costly protest

Opinion
What will probably be South Africa’s largest public protest in the history of democracy is set to take place today, although last munite invernentions by the police may throw some marchers off. Organisers of the protest hope to see millions of South Africans take to the streets to oppose President Jacob Zuma’s recent cabinet reshuffle, which saw nine ministers - including former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan - axed.

Some companies I’ve heard of have given staff the day off, on condition they supply pictures showing that they were protesting. Others have offered staff the opportunity to take leave so they can exercise their right to freedom of association.

There are also warnings being circulated that people should, as far as possible, ponder staying home just in case things get out of hand and traffic is an absolute nightmare.

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Nicola Mawson. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

Outa - which now styles itself as the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, having become a broad-based civil society grouping instead of just fighting e-tolls - says this could be “probably the biggest public protest in our new democracy”. It says “millions of citizens are expected to exercise their democratic right to protest against their president’s conduct”.

Organisations that have pledged support for the protest action are Save South Africa, Corruption Watch, Treatment Action Campaign, Outa, Lawyers for Human Rights, Section27, Johannesburg Against Injustice and the National Religious Leaders’ Council. The protest has also been endorsed by the South African University Staff Association, the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign, and Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre.

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In Pretoria, various civil organisations under the banner #SaveSouthAfrica have organised a march from Church Square to the Union Buildings at noon, via Madiba Street. The SACP was set to stage another march from Marabastad in Pretoria at 10am to the National Treasury offices in the city centre, although this has been postponed after police declined to allow it to go ahead. A DA march will take place in Joburg from Westgate Transport Hub to Mary Fitzgerald Square and back. More than 10 000 people are due to attend. It will be taking place from 10am to 1pm and traffic will be diverted.

There will also be a human chain from outside the gates of Parliament down Plein Street, up Adderley and Wale streets until St George’s Cathedral where - at 2pm - a memorial service for the late Ahmed Kathrada will be held.

Later there will be a set-up of Vukani Mzansi tent camp to conduct a 48-hour picket, as well as a cultural programme that will last until Saturday morning between St George’s Cathedral and the Slave Lodge museum. Marches are also set for Durban.

It certainly seems as if a huge amount of preparation has gone into the marches - and South Africans will turn out in force to support the cause, wearing white or South African flag T-shirts.

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South Africans certainly have valid concerns. There will be an economic effect, although what that will be exactly remains to be seen.

Last year, our economy grew at a measly 0.3 percent, and it is expected to sneak in at just more than a percent this year.

However, that was before the rand lost 9 percent following the cabinet shuffle, and S&P's downgrading the country on the back of that move.

Moody’s has also indicated that it has South Africa on review, with a potential downgrade possibly being announced today. Banks have also been downgraded by S&P's, and Moody’s is also reviewing Eskom.

None of this is good news - and we should all take to the streets in protest.

What concerns me is whether we should effectively be bringing SA Inc to a halt on a working day. Having millions of people out of work will further harm our fragile economy, and we can’t afford that.

Africa Check, in its most recent investigation into the costs of strikes, put the best estimate of income lost to the gold sector at R350million a day. That’s for one sector. I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at just how much this will cost the economy, although I suspect it will go into billions.

Is a mass protest the only way South Africans can show their displeasure? Or is there a way we can be just as vocal - perhaps by taking to social media more - and less harmful to the economy?

I would like to suggest that we rethink how we voice our displeasure. What do you think?

* Nicola Mawson is the online editor of Business Report. Follow her on Twitter @NicolaMawson or Business Report @busrep.

BUSINESS REPORT

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