President Jacob Zuma has once again infuriated the public by sacking one of the few ministers who actually seemed to be doing his job. So far two ratings agencies downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to “junk” status shortly after he axed finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. Something had to be done and so the #ZumaMustFall protests were born.

Before I attempt to decode my own thoughts on the matter, let me start by saying that I agree wholeheartedly that the president needs to either step down or needs to be removed, whichever comes first. My own observations have led me to believe that this is the general feeling among a lot of the critics of this ‘movement’. That being said, there are a number of pertinent issues that need to be addressed regarding the #ZumaMustFall campaign.

Firstly I have to ask, where did this sudden appreciation for the art of protesting come from? For years, protests have been seen as acts of hooliganism whether they’ve been peaceful or violent. I find it worrying that the stigmas surrounding protests in this country are so easily shifted when the middle to upper class decides to get involved.

We can’t accept the argument that ‘this was the breaking point’. As a society, we took to social media when we heard about Marikana or the Life Esidemeni tragedy, we didn’t go to the streets in protest. How were these tragedies not breaking points? When thousands of students marched to the union buildings in an attempt to make tertiary education more accessible, students were hooligans and thugs. Where were the hundreds of protesters who loitered on Beyers Naude last Friday when Bonginkosi Khanyile spent 6 months in Westville Prison?

It seems like we are more shocked by the effects Zuma’s actions will have on our pockets than the death of others who were and are in more trying spaces than our own. As much as we try to hide from it, we cannot escape the ugly truth. We, as South Africans, are only concerned with what directly affects our own interests. We don’t care about those less fortunate than ourselves.

We can make many conclusions as to why we feel the need to only act when we are directly affected. We can blame Apartheid, human nature, our capitalistic society, whatever the cause, we need to acknowledge this as a problem. Apathy towards the plight of others seems to be the driving ideology followed by most of our citizens today. This attitude is the main reason behind the fraction that separates those for these protests and those against them.

The #ZumaMustFall campaign has been heavily criticised and for good reason. People protest on a daily basis in this country and are barely heard. Why? They’re poor. They can’t catch an Uber to Luthuli house, stand around for a few hours and then ask their dad to shoot through in his new Merc when things get a little bit heated. The poor have to fight and fight hard for their basic needs to be met. Quite frankly, it’s insulting that a few opposition parties have jumped onto the #MustFall bandwagon all of a sudden. Why haven’t they been there for the poor?

On one side, those who refuse to participate in these demonstrations cannot fully identify with the cause because they’ve been berated in the past for standing up against injustice. They are used to people rolling their eyes and deriding the very mention of protest. How do you stand up with someone, supporting a similar cause when they’ve condemned you for fighting for what you believe to be right?

On the other hand, this is an opportunity for South Africans to unite. People have shown their willingness to stand up against the president. People from different walks of life finally understand why others protest. There seems to be a sense of co-operation among most opposition parties. The people of South Africa want change. They want to take action against injustice. It may be very late but there is some sort of effort being made.

Regardless of our respective sides we must admit that this is a critical period in post-Apartheid South Africa. We should be cognisant of the fact that although it’s been more than two decades, division is still very much a part of the contemporary South African experience. At what point, if any, do we come back together?

Written by Chad Johnston