A week ago there were three ladies from Roodepoort who thought that “Twitter” was mere birdsong, and that hashtags were symbols in grammar books.
To them, the word “viral” evoked nothing more than nasty diseases.
But that was before they set the internet alight with their catchy “Zuma must goooooo” song and dance. A week, as they say, is a long time in politics.
The three primary school teachers from Roodepoort are now known as the “Zuma grannies”. They were among the tens of thousands of South Africans who took to the streets last Friday to show their outrage at President Jacob Zuma’s latest cabinet reshuffle, in which former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas were fired; South Africa was subsequently downgraded to junk status.
Sisters Jill Hallett, 67, and Joan Swanepoel, 71, and their longtime friend Debbie Breedt, 58, braved last Friday’s wet weather and walked 4km to join thousands of protesters across the country to voice their anger. They were armed with vuvuzelas, a flask and cowboy hats. Their banners were made out of pillow cases, their messages written in crayon.
Hallett’s main motivation for taking part in the march was a photo of two of her grandchildren — one black and the other white — at the age of three playing together.
“We need to look after and protect what we have for the sake of our children and grandchildren,” said Hallett, who has seven children and 15 grandchildren.
Breedt said: “It was not about politics alone any more: the demonstrations were about saving South Africa against corruption.
Watch a video of the ‘Zuma grannies’ below:
“The mood was so electrifying. For the first time since 1994 I saw thousands of South Africans come together for one purpose. We were all united and had one goal — Zuma must go.”
She added that activities with her primary school children kept her fit. On a normal Friday morning you will find Hallett at tai chi and Swanepoel swimming before their afternoon classes. However, last Friday they couldn’t keep up with the toyi-toyiers.
“We loved the song they were singing. Like true primary teachers we added our flavour and dance to it,” said Swanepoel, who couldn’t believe their spontaneous routine went viral within hours.
Friends and relatives from as far afield as the UK were calling them to tell them of the video.
“When my nephew called to tell me the video went viral... I didn’t know what ‘viral’ was. I even asked him where I can get a hashtag. I didn’t know anything about Twitter,” said Swanepoel.
Hallett said: “I guess we were able to deliver a message in a true primary school-teacher style. We still cannot believe the nation had liked and made some funny remixes of the original video.”
The video of the Zuma grannies trended all weekend on Twitter and later gave birth to the #ZumaMustFallChallenge, which inspired people to post videos of themselves doing the gogo dance.
Former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni tweeted: “On a lighter note on a very serious day. These magogos win the day. The passion for their country is great. Whichever position one takes.”
Idols South Africa judge Somizi Mhlongo said he would challenge his mom, veteran actress Mary Twala, actress Lillian Dube and Abigail Kubeka to do their own version.
To celebrate their internet fame, Hallett, Swanepoel and Breedt had a dinner party with their children and grandchildren on Saturday, where they laughed at all the #ZumaMustFall memes.
Their children have even created a Facebook page and a Twitter account for them.
Not everyone saw the humour in their activism. One critic asked why the women were at the march instead of drinking coffee at home.
Breedt said: “Even before we took part, we knew there would be people who would be against what we were doing. Everyone has their opinion but we stood up for what we thought was right.
“We are not members of any political party but keep tabs on what is happening in our country. We prayed before and after the march to ask God for guidance.”
Although the trio did not take part in Wednesday’s march in Pretoria, which drew thousands of people, the reaction to them has been overwhelmingly positive.
Almost everywhere they go, people stop to take selfies with them.
No wonder their husbands avoid going shopping with them.
If Zuma were to go, the grannies would certainly be happy that those few hours on Beyers Naudé Drive had been worth it.