Pressure builds on Zuma as opposition forces amass in Pretoria

Ten South African opposition parties unite to seek end to president’s reign

Demonstrators march in protest against South African president Jacob Zuma, to ask for his resignation, in Pretoria. Photograph: Luigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

As South African president Jacob Zuma celebrated his 75th birthday on Wednesday, the country's opposition parties launched a united campaign outside government buildings in Pretoria calling for his removal from office.

In what the organisers were calling a “national day of action”, tens of thousands of protesters sought to build on the moment created by last week’s nationwide anti-Zuma rallies by taking their demand to Union Buildings, the government’s administrative headquarters.

The crowd that gathered in Pretoria was larger than of any of the individual anti-Zuma protests that took place last week in the country’s four main cities, which suggests the campaign to have him recalled is gaining traction with the public.

Ten of South Africa’s 12 opposition parties have united to undertake the new campaign, which, it was stressed, is not after regime change but rather an end to Mr Zuma’s presidency. They are supported by civil society, religious leaders, and some unions.


Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema told protesters that the parties had agreed to put their differences aside for the sake of South Africa's economic future.

“Today we are going to march hand-in-hand with all political parties,” he said, before telling the enthusiastic crowd, “We want you to send one message and one message only: that Zuma must step down.”

Economic woes

Opposition parties said their first protest would form part of a rolling mass action campaign that would continue until Mr Zuma had voluntarily stood down or been recalled by his party, the African National Congress.

The campaign also seeks to raise awareness among South Africans of Mr Zuma's negative impact on the country's ailing economy

The campaign also seeks to raise awareness among South Africans of Mr Zuma's negative impact on the country's ailing economy, which was dealt another blow two weeks ago when he fired respected minister for finance Pravin Gordhan.

The cabinet reshuffle, which involved the dismissal of six ministers in all, prompted two major credit ratings agencies to downgrade South Africa to junk status.

The anti-Zuma movement’s organisers also want to keep the pressure on the ruling party’s MPs ahead of a debate in parliament on whether a vote of no confidence in the president should be held.

Jacob Zuma: only one of the ANC’s top six leaders attended his 75th birthday celebration on Wednesday afternoon. Photograph: Kopano Tlape/EPA

The debate was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, but on Wednesday the speaker of the house, Baleka Mbete, agreed to a postponement sought by the Democratic Alliance. The main opposition party wanted it delayed so that a constitutional court ruling could be made on whether the ballot should be secret or not. The ruling is expected next week.

ANC could turn

Opposition parties are calling on ANC MPs to turn against Mr Zuma in the event a vote goes ahead, and they believe a larger number of ruling party parliamentarians will do so if the ballot is held in secret. Of the 400 MPs in parliament, 249 are members of the ruling ANC.

Mr Zuma’s presidency has become increasingly divisive in the ANC, creating factions among the party’s senior members that have undermined the movement’s unity.

It was reported that only one of the ANC's top six leaders, Jesse Durate, the party's deputy secretary general, attended Mr Zuma's ANC-sponsored birthday celebration in Kliptown, Soweto, on Wednesday afternoon.

In recent weeks many senior ANC members have spoken out against Mr Zuma’s leadership. However, he is believed to still have the backing of the majority of the ANC’s national executive committee, the only party organ that can have him recalled as president.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa