The organisers could not have done anything to prepare for the reception that the president of South Africa received at the FNB Stadium during the official memorial service of former President Nelson Mandela. As if on cue, large sections of the crowd went into a chorus of booing each time President Jacob Zuma appeared on the big screen, much to the embarrassment of ANC stalwarts and foreign heads of state. Former South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and FW De Klerk received a warm welcome and thunderous applause. The crowd even chanted Mbeki’s name for some time before settling down.
The ANC has expressed its disappointment in the South African public who booed the president and by so doing, flaunted the nation’s dirty laundry in front of visitors. Any of a number of things could have led to the extreme levels of public dissatisfaction displayed at the memorial service including the recent Gupta family Waterkloof landing, the introduction of e-tolls and perhaps, the leaked Nkandlagate report which is still fresh in the minds of people.
Social networks are split in their reactions to the incidents at the FNB Stadium on Tuesday. There are those who feel that the public should have put those matters on the shelf until after the nation has mourned one of its greatest leaders. They believe that the booing was in contrast to what Madiba stood for and it was disrespectful to his legacy to act in such a manner.
On the other side of the fence, there are those who say that the president had it coming. They credit him with a string of scandals and the levels of public faith in the government are at their lowest in a long time.
The crowd became somewhat restless after Barack Obama delivered his speech and though Cyril Ramaphosa had to call for discipline at some point, the presidency is of the opinion that the booing was not that big a deal. The spokesperson for the presidency, Mac Maharaj said: “It passed – in four minutes it was over, and it didn’t happen again… We will not take a small event and make it into a crisis in our democracy.” What Mac Maharaj refers to as “four minutes” was in fact repeated booing every time President Jacob Zuma appeared on the big screens from the time he entered the venue until the end of the event. The booing subsided considerably to allow Zuma to address the crowd. As far as Mac Maharaj is concerned, President Jacob Zuma remains a much appreciated leader and the booing came from just a “small part” of the crowd.
Either way, when the president of a country gets a reception such as the one Zuma received at the memorial service of a man who symbolised unity, peace and forgiveness; it is safe to assume that there are tensions lying under the surface, tensions which cannot be ignored.