PRETORIA - In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma launched the country’s new state-of-the-art Metrorail, dubbed the “People’s Trains.” The event was seen as an opportunity for Zuma to shore up popular support amid mounting political tensions and an upcoming no-confidence vote in parliament.
Zuma rolled out the first phase of a $4-billion, 20-year project to modernize public transport.
Commuters have in the past resorted to burning trains in anger at the aging current fleet of trains for arriving late and constantly breaking down.
Zuma unveiled the new trains, outfitted with air-conditioning, CC-TV cameras and other features, in Pretoria. He pleaded with people not to burn or vandalize them.
“This is a government who is trying to better our lives in anyway. Bit by bit, we will do it right at the end. So we are getting there as a country. These are signs, clear and positive signs, that say to us South Africa is not sinking, it is rising.”
The organizers of the launch, and Zuma himself, may be breathing a sigh of relief the event went without a major incident.
The country has seen several anti-Zuma protests since a controversial Cabinet reorganization in March. Earlier this month, members of the country’s largest labor union booed Zuma when he arrived to address them during May day festivities, and he left without delivering his speech.
But at Tuesday’s event, supporters cheered the president.
Though once the launch was over, Takalani Matsilele, an activist, entered one of the new trains urging people to sign a petition to remove Zuma.
“Our country is going down the drain as long as Zuma is the president. That man has led us to a junk status for the first time,” Matsilele said.
A vote of no confidence against Zuma is pending in parliament. The Constitutional Court is to hear arguments Monday on an opposition petition to make the parliamentary vote a secret ballot. Zuma has survived several previous no-confidence votes.
If the secret ballot is granted, some of his own MPs, who have openly expressed displeasure at his leadership, could team up with the opposition to remove him.