Tens of thousands of South Africans took to the streets on Friday calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down for poor leadership.
The nationwide protests were triggered by the news that a second ratings agency had downgraded South Africa to “junk” status. Police had to fire rubber bullets to disperse the crowd in scattered protests.
“It’s about Zuma and his people. They are ruining the country. Things are only going to get worse unless there is a change soon,” one of the protesters, Thana Dzwane, told the Guardian.
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Protesters marched around major cities and towns carrying banners that read “Zuma not my president” and “the power of the people is stronger than the people in power”.
No to Foreign Influence
However, hundreds of government supporters, some armed with sticks and stones, and others wearing combat uniforms, guarded the ruling party ANC’s headquarters and at one point tried to disrupt the protests, forcing the police to intervene.
Speaking to the Guardian after the protests, Sifiso Motsweni, a senior official in the ANC Youth League, said they were just protecting the party’s property from opposition “thugs”.
Motsweni also accused the South African opposition leaders of trying to obtain power using “unconstitutional means”, further criticizing South Africa’s main opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) for being used by foreigners to destabilize the country.
“We are not going to listen to white people and white CEOs who do not represent the majority of South Africans. This is not a race issue. White people continue to be the bosses, to hold the economy and the land. That is not racist, it is real,” Motsweni insisted.
Majority of ANC supporters often accuse the DA of being run by minority whites and prominent business people.
Is Zuma’s Downfall Near?
Analysts say the current political crisis, which comes a few days after the embattled president reshuffled his cabinet, sacking the widely respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan, is the worst to hit South Africa since the end of apartheid two decades ago.
Over the last two years, President Zuma has faced unrelenting pressure from a section of South Africans, who are calling for his resignation saying he has failed the country and its people.
Last year, the calls for the president to step down, even from members of his own party ANC, intensified after he admitted to using millions of public funds to renovate his private home in Nkandla.
Others have accused Mr. Zuma, who has been in power since 2009, of filling important government positions with loyalists and ANC supporters.
Friday’s protests have laid bare serious divisions within the Rainbow Nation and within the ANC – the party that has ruled the country since the end of apartheid in 1994.