Tens of thousands of South Africans took to the streets calling on Jacob Zuma to resign as the country’s main opposition parties put on a rare show of unity in an attempt to increase pressure on the president.
The march was the latest sign of growing anger over Mr Zuma’s leadership as critics accuse him of allowing corruption and cronyism to flourish for the benefit of his political and business allies. This month, he triggered a huge backlash, even from within his ruling African National Congress party, after he sacked his respected finance minister, Pravin Gordhan.
The protest in Pretoria, the capital, follows similar marches in cities across the country on Friday that also attracted tens of thousands of people. But Wednesday’s demonstration was the first time that seven opposition parties, which are often at loggerheads, have joined forces in such a public protest against a president since the ANC took power at the first democratic election in 1994.
Organisers estimated that more than 100,000 people attended the “national day of action” march to Union Buildings, the seat of government.
Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway from the ANC, told the protesters the march was “a show of force”.
“All political parties have come together to send one message. Zuma must leave office,” he said. “The sooner he leaves the better because this country must recover economically.”
The ANC “tried to divide us, but they failed,” said Phumzile van Damme, a spokesperson for the main opposition Democratic Alliance.
Mr Zuma turned 75 on Wednesday and protesters at the march burnt an effigy of the president in a coffin as they sang happy birthday
Since he took office in 2009, Mr Zuma has been dogged by scandals. But his decision to sack Mr Gordhan in a midnight reshuffle in which he purged nine cabinet members has triggered an unprecedented outcry from across society.
Mr Zuma is, however, a wily political operator who has survived numerous scandals and retained a grip over the critical structures of the ANC.
Opposition parties have asked for a no-confidence vote in parliament over Mr Zuma’s leadership to be postponed from next week to allow South Africa’s highest court to consider whether a secret ballot should be held. Their hope is that if the vote is secret, disgruntled ANC MPs could rebel against their leader and side with the opposition.