Shutdown: A day of reckoning for Cyril

EFF supporters, like all other South Africans, have a constitutional right to peacefully protest against any issue subject to the relevant permissions within the bounds of the laws of the land, says the writer. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

EFF supporters, like all other South Africans, have a constitutional right to peacefully protest against any issue subject to the relevant permissions within the bounds of the laws of the land, says the writer. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 20, 2023


London - Even before the spurious call to action by the radical minority opposition party EFF for a national shutdown on Monday takes place or not, its potential disruptive impact on the South African body politic and psyche was already evident a few days before.

Is this the High Noon of South African politics pitting the ruling ANC and the state against an ultra-radical desperate socialist upstart seeking to overthrow a democratically elected government it has no mandate nor any chance of ousting, perhaps only through extra-parliamentary means, disruption and civil unrest?

Or will it muster the capacity to degenerate into the Gunfight at the People’s Corral with the hope that thousands of compatriots, frustrated and fed up with endless power cuts, rising cost of living, high crime rates and endemic corruption, will join in?

The danger would be to overthink the EFF and the potential threat it poses to South African democracy.

But equally it would be naïve to dismiss it as the attention-seeking and shock-and-awe antics of a disgruntled minority led by a former ANC youth leader who could not navigate the rigours of democratic discourse only to be ejected from the party because of his disruptive persona and propensity to opportunism?

The EFF is a creation of the ANC’s demoralising failure of delivering on transformation for the majority of the population from the Zuma to the Ramaphosa eras, and the abject ineffectiveness of the opposition groups to muster any meaningful alternative to the ruling consensus.

The EFF’s very raison d’etre for calling nationwide marches is to protest against the country's debilitating power crisis marked by endless load shedding and economic woes.

The sting in the tail is the call for the resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa and the collapse of his government, thus paving the way presumably for the EFF’s very own damascene vision for South Africa.

On the face of it, EFF supporters like all other South Africans, have a constitutional right to peacefully protest against any issue subject to the relevant permissions within the bounds of the laws of the land and bereft of a climate of fear and threats.

After all that is an inalienable right in any functioning liberal democracy.

Not even the art of lawfare, it seems, could stave off the planned “shutdown.”

The Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg dismissed an urgent court application on March 18 by the DA to have the EFF's national shutdown today declared unlawful “in as far as it wasn't protected under a notice granted in terms of the Gatherings Act.”

In an electronic judgement, the court did, “prohibit the EFF, its members, employees and officials from shutting down schools, retail stores, businesses, trade and public roads.

The ruling also prohibits the EFF from promoting, instigating or organising the blocking of roads or railway lines and any unlawful conduct, as well as inciting violence.”

Two days earlier, several High Courts across the country had already announced adjustments for court proceedings scheduled for Monday.

The Gauteng Division in Johannesburg announced that all court proceedings scheduled for today will be conducted remotely and virtually. The Western Cape High Court has postponed all criminal cases for March 16 and 20, until Wednesday March 22.

Some are likening the EFF’s call for a national shutdown to a South African version of the UK’s Winter of Discontent between November 1978 and February 1979 characterised by widespread strikes by trade unions demanding pay rises greater than the limits set by Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan’s government.

I was a student in London at the time and any comparison pales into insignificance.

Where the EFF can extract some succour, albeit historical, is that Callaghan was thumped at the 1979 elections by a radical centre right ideologue, Conservative leader Maggie Thatcher, the so-called ‘Iron Lady’ who insisted on calling our very own Madiba a ‘Terrorist’ while the rest of humanity was celebrating him as the world’s iconic ‘Freedom Fighter.’

The rest is history.

The majority of South Africans, while sympathising with the underlying frustrations implicit in the EFF’s call for action, are politically astute as to the real intentions of the EFF.

Even the ANC hierarchy starting from Team Ramaphosa are frustrated at their own ineffectiveness and delivery shortcomings.

But there is the danger of ANC Support Fatigue setting in. When you have erstwhile ANC exiles and cadres expressing to me in a recent discourse over their disillusionment with the party for which they sacrificed so much over the years, daring to contemplate some sort of accommodation with the opposition parties including the DA, Action SA and the EFF, in a grand coalition to sort out the country’s current mess, perhaps the shifting sands of changing political culture may be taking roots.

“We believe that a shutdown of this nature,” stressed the ANC, “is neither in the interest of the country, nor does it advance our hard-worn democracy.

This is the clearest demonstration that the EFF has no interest in building a cohesive nation that invests its collective will to the development and growth of our country.”

The Ramaphosa government and its agencies called out the EFF action for what it is. "This is an attempt to overthrow the government.

This is not a shutdown, it’s anarchy," explained KwaZulu-Natal Police Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, at a media briefing on Friday.

There are reports of over 25,000 security officers being deployed as a precaution as part of a protest preparedness plan.

This is also a day of reckoning for President Ramaphosa and his leadership.

Has he got what it takes to stand up to the authoritarian bully boys bent on undermining South African democracy and demanding zero tolerance to threats, violence, looting and bigotry?

He has warned that anarchy will not be tolerated during the protests and called on security forces to "defend our people" stressing that the only way to get him out of office and power is through a vote.

Lest President Ramaphosa is tempting fate, the ANC is faced with losing its absolute majority, if we believe the polls, in the 2024 general election.

If that is the case, it could pave the way for coalition politics.

We had a precursor to this in the 2021 municipal elections when several key metros had no overall majorities.

The sheer jockeying for power showed that coalition politics is not yet a natural fit in the South African political landscape.

If translated to the 2024 general election in the form of a hung Parliament, will the ANC contemplate a coalition with the EFF – the very same party calling for the national shutdown with threats of looting and violence to undermine Ramaphosa’s rule?

The alternative would be to form a working pact with the DA and other opposition groups.

The mind boggles with intrigue!

Parker is a writer based in London

Cape Times

* The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.