Tens of thousands march against Zuma across South Africa

Protests following cabinet reshuffle the culmination of years of opposition to president

Demonstrators carry banners as they take part in a protest calling for the removal of South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg on Friday. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Demonstrators carry banners as they take part in a protest calling for the removal of South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg on Friday. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

 

Citizens across South Africa came out in their tens of thousands on Friday to call for President Jacob Zuma to be removed from office.

The anti-Zuma protests organised by civil society groups, religious orders, unions and political parties took place in all of South Africa’s major cities and towns, on a scale that has not been seen since the fight against apartheid during the 1980s.

The marches were sparked by the African National Congress (ANC) leader’s decision to reshuffle his cabinet late on March 30th, an undertaking that involved the sacking of six ministers.

Those fired included finance minister Parvin Gordhan, a well-respected ANC politician who had been leading anti-graft activities in government and efforts to attract foreign direct investment for the country’s ailing economy.

While the size of the protests took many government officials by surprise, public opposition to Mr Zuma’s rule had been growing steadily for the past few years because of his poor handling of the economy and allegations that he and his allies are corrupt.

The political uncertainty caused by Mr Zuma’s cabinet changes led ratings agency Standard and Poor Global to downgrade South Africa’s sovereign credit rating to junk status on Monday.

It also prompted the ANC’s tripartite alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and the union federation Cosatu to turn against Mr Zuma. Both groups were at the forefront of Friday’s protests and have vowed to continue to seek Mr Zuma’s removal from office.

All backgrounds

In Cape Town city centre alone, more than 30,000 people from all backgrounds marched peacefully to parliament, calling for an end to government corruption and Mr Zuma’s presidency.

Pretoria and Johannesburg also each witnessed tens of thousands of people taking to the streets calling for leadership change. However, there was sporadic violence between pro- and anti-Zuma supporters in Johannesburg when members of the latter group strayed too close to the ANC’s headquarters in the city centre.

Even Durban, the capital of the president’s home province and a city considered staunchly pro-Zuma, saw thousands of people marching for change.

Shortly after the protests got under way, ratings agency Fitch announced that it too had downgraded South Africa to junk status.

During the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party’s “March for Change” through Johannesburg, DA leader Mmusi Maimane warned the government that South Africans would never allow Mr Zuma and his cronies to destroy the country.

“We are here today to show the world that enough is enough,” he said, “that our spirit will not be crushed. That hope is alive in our country.”

The tensions in South African politics are unlikely to subside in the weeks ahead following speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete’s announcement on Fridaythat MPs will debate a motion of no confidence in Mr Zuma’s presidency on April 18th.

In a bid to keep the pressure on the ANC to recall Mr Zuma from office, the organisers of Friday’s protests have announced that another day of nationwide mass action will take place next Wednesday.