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About 350 people joined in protest action against President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle, on Church Square at lunchtime on Friday. Many protesters were carrying placards urging government to put an end to corruption, to stop radical economic looting, to defend democracy and to recall the president.
A last-minute hand-written message on a piece of cardboard was direct: “Hey wena! Zupta. You must go now! Sies! Sick”.
Grahamstown’s protest showed more religious overtones than similar actions taking place all around the country at the same time. One of the placards invoked the Lord’s Prayer and encouraged South Africans to ‘protest and pray’.
The Anglican Church was the central coordinator for the event which took place close to the front door of the Cathedral and the Very Reverend Andrew Hunter conducted proceedings while the Bishop of Grahamstown, Ebenezer Ntlali was the main speaker.
Ntlali used the earth tremor that shook parts of the country at the beginning of the week as a metaphor for the aftermath of Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle. The earth literally trembled as South Africans braced themselves for the aftershocks.
He reminded the placard carrying protesters that Zuma has repeatedly caused his compatriots to worry about the way this country is being managed. Ntlali raised questions about the president’s business associates and the implications of the Public Protector’s State of Capture Report.
Referring to Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle where he replaced capable ministers with those who are more malleable, Ntlali pointed out that the subsequent credit downgrading is more likely to harm poor and unemployed people.
The Bishop concluded his address with a rousing call for Zuma to step down.
When Hunter announced an open mic, poet and musician, Chris Mann followed with a stirring anti-corruption, multi-lingual rap song in which the spectators/protesters were invited to join him for the choruses. At first people were a little surprised and unsure about sure how to react, but after the second or third chorus everyone joined in singing and swinging with the beat.
An impromptu trio consisting of well-known Glenmore activist, Ben Mafani, Sindiswa Gule and Mary Godlonton led the crowd with a rendition of well known struggle song, Senzani na.
There were other interventions from Irene de Moor who sang We shall overcome and Black Sash veteran Rosemary Smith, who compared the current political situation to that of pre-1994 South Africa.