How do you get more than 350 000 visits to your website in just a few days? Claim that the South African president has resigned. Siyathokoza Khumalo created an online media frenzy with a blog post on November 3 facetiously titled President Jacob Zuma has resigned. Social media went nuts and the hashtag #ZumasResigned is still trending.
Did Zuma really resign? This question is irrelevant, says Khumalo. “We will consign him to the archives of history whether he is ready to be consigned or not.” Khumalo says the idea is that if citizens truly have power, then if we say “Zuma has resigned” enough times, over and over, it becomes true in a social sense, in terms of how we disqualify the former president’s ineffective, corrupt, lacklustre term in office.
The last straw “was when I realised that we were going to buy nuclear power we wouldn’t afford while unable to afford and maintain coal. I saw that traditional protest and petition strategies had become obsolete. So I thought out of the box”.
Catalysing social change one hashtag at a time, the buying and planning assistant from Durban has become a new media sensation, but those familiar with his work know him for his well-thought-out, complex and sometimes philosophical writings on his website Sanity Thinks Out Loud.
The response was mixed.
“Some are saying in public forums that they don’t mind putting themselves at risk for the campaign; that it’s necessary. People across all ages, races, gender, they’ve picked the ball up and are running with it. A chord has been struck and it’s reverberating. #ZumasResigned is coming up in other countries, in other languages. Presidency’s office responded — and basically dismissed the public. Surprise, surprise, the government doesn’t care about people or what they think,” says Khumalo.
Meanwhile, the web is revelling in this thought-provoking idea. At last count, on Friday, November 7, there were 350 000 blog reads, 107 361 Facebook referrals and 3 880 on Twitter — with the numbers increasing by the hour. By the time you read this, they may have doubled.
Writer Mike Hampton responded online that “If #ZumasResigned was a harmless hoax or a wish, nobody would pay it any attention. It is because the idea is so outrageously self-attesting and self-fulfilling that they try very hard to suppress it. The cat’s out of the bag. Zuma’s resigned.
“Every time this statement is repeated, resistance against it is weakened. Every time people hear the words, ‘FORMER President Jacob Zuma’, they taste what it’s like to have him as former president. What has been experienced cannot be denied, whether it’s evoked hope, joy, fear, disgust, confusion, anger or a mix of these.
“This is how Thabo Mbeki’s recall came about. Some people were referring to him as ‘former president’ before it became official. In a year, nobody will remember #ZumasResigned [but] as with Mbeki, we will remember the recall as a single event rather than something that was ‘acknowledged into actuality’ by a gathering number of people.”
Some challenges lay ahead for Khumalo. “I’ve been getting notifications from Twitter that my account security has been breached and I’ve had to drive this campaign while working a full-time job at peak season. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. There are also a lot of people who immediately see the title of the blog post, or the hashtag, and say it’s a hoax. They don’t realise that it works by being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Overcoming that has been tough. Also, I’m sure my friends have had enough of me talking about nothing but this!”
The Herald Live reported that retired politician Jay Naidoo, satirist Gus Silber and Rhodes University new media expert Professor Harry Dugmore have signed up for his @SKhumalo1987 tweets, but Silber was cautious that hashtags did not bring about social and political change.
Khumalo hopes that “Former President Zuma will become our albatross. He can go through the motions of being in the Presidency, but it’s a charade”.