Cape Town – Thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Jacob Zuma took to the streets in pickets, marches and human chains across South Africa on Friday.
With their home-made posters and T-shirts and waving the South African flag, people shouted, “Zuma must go”, and “Zuma must fall” as motorists hooted in support.
Many were protesting for the first time ever in civil action sparked by Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle, which saw the finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas fired. The rand fell against the US dollar and S&P and Fitch downgraded the country’s credit ratings to “junk status”.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula put the number of marchers at around 60 000 countrywide. Bloemfontein, Durban, Mbombela, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town were the main centres of marches.
She said data was still coming in, but at least one person had been arrested. She praised the protesters and the police for the mostly peaceful gatherings. She commended marchers for picking up litter afterwards.
The ANC said there had been no internal discussions about Zuma heeding the call to step down.
About 500 protesters made their way to the home of the Gupta brothers in leafy Saxonwold, Johannesburg, late on Friday.
Netwerk24 photographer Felix Dlangamandla was on the scene when pro-Zuma Black First Land First representatives shouted at anti-Zuma protesters and police fired stun grenades to separate the two camps.
In Johannesburg, four people were hit by rubber bullets. Another person suffered serious injuries during an attack, allegedly by ANC supporters, at Beyers Naude Square, near ANC headquarters Luthuli House.
Outside Luthuli House, camouflaged members of the party’s former military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, claimed to be protecting the building from anti-Zuma marchers.
In Pietermaritzburg, anti-Zuma picketers and about 200 ANC Youth League supporters clashed at City Hall. Police threw stun grenades at ANCYL members who were destroying a gazebo erected by the DA and throwing eggs at the demonstrators. One ANCYL member was arrested.
About 12 000 people marched in the centre of Cape Town. Smaller pickets took place along routes around the city, such as along the Table View beachfront and Newlands.
Some stone throwing and tyre burning were reported along Robert Sobukwe Drive and Valhalla Drive, although it was not immediately clear if it was protest-related.
President Jacob Zuma lay low for the day, but his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa said people had the right to march.
“We live in a democracy, so people have the right to express themselves. Freedom of speech, freedom of action, as long as this happens peacefully,” Ramaphosa told News24.
“We live in a free country,” he said. Following Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle, he said he found it difficult to accept claims that Gordhan could be involved in a plot to destabilise the country. This was apparently contained in an “intelligence report” Zuma relied on to justify sacking him.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane told a gathering at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Johannesburg that Zuma, and not the country, was “junk”.
“We cannot wait for the ANC to self-correct. We need to forge a new path, and decide our own destiny,” he said.
In Polokwane, police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse disgruntled Seshego residents who had blocked roads and forced shops to close as they joined the nationwide protests.
Meanwhile in Port Elizabeth, thousands of Nelson Mandela Bay residents gathered at the Vuyisile Mini Square outside the Port Elizabeth City Hall on Friday in solidarity with protesters around the country who took to the streets to call for Zuma to step down.
A festive atmosphere prevailed as many protesters danced to songs played over the PA system as they waited for the formal activities to begin.
The crowds were addressed by various speakers, facilitated by SaveSA co-organiser Mkhuseli Jack.
Among those who spoke was 17-year-old matriculant, Luthandolwethu Maboniswa, who became emotional as she called for Zuma to do the honourable thing and resign.
“This is a man who no longer knows between right and wrong, a man who does not care about the people.
“We can no longer stand by and let out country go to the dogs. We will not be silenced, we will not be intimidated and we will not allow corruption to rule over our beautiful land,” Maboniswa said through tears, to thunderous applause from the crowds.
Former Zuma allies such as Zwelinzima Vavi, Mosiuoa Lekota, and Save SA leader Sipho Pityana were at the various events.