This week has seen massive protests in South Africa, calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down. On Friday 12 April, thousands of young South Africans hit the streets in response to the downgrading of the country’s credit rating and Zuma’s record of alleged corruption. In addition to this, people were upset at his recent dismissal of a well-respected Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan.
The sacking of Gordhan led to an almost immediate drop in the value of the rand currency and international ratings by agencies, such as Standard and Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. Gordhan was considered competent at an international level, unlike his replacement Malusi Gigaba who has no financial experience. Gigaba is, however, known to be a Zuma loyalist. ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, described the reshuffle as “uncomfortable.” In contrast, Zuma stated that the reshuffle was “to bring about radical socio-economic transformation and to ensure that the promise of a better life for the poor and the working class becomes a reality.”
The move to dismiss Gordhan has revealed deep-set fracturing in with the ANC. This is best clearly seen in the Deputy President Cyril Ramphosa’s address, which described the removal of Gordhan as “unacceptable” as he had been “serving the country with complete distinction.”
Zuma is in his second five-year term. He has been accused of filling key roles with loyalists and nurturing inappropriate relations with a local tycoon family. Political analyst, Mari Harris, says that “Compared to past ANC leaders, Zuma falls far short… He’s tried to purge his cabinet of people who are opposition and put in a lot of yes-men.” However, despite repeated allegations of corruption, Zuma has denied them all.
The protests were organized by a coalition of opposition parties. These are not protests against the president but are, by far, the largest. While some earlier protests had been organized by civil society and religious groups, these protests involved at least seven political parties. Protesters held signs saying ‘Zuma Must Fall!’ and ‘Stop the Rot!’
On April 7, the Democratic Alliance held a march in Johannesburg. On the same day, the Save South Africa Campaign held a march in Pretoria. In response to these marches, Zuma loyalists threatened violence.
The Democratic Alliance, a party that is dominated by white South Africans, has been accused of only representing the interests of white South Africans. This is especially important due to South Africa’s history of apartheid, which has left the country struggling with income, class, and racial divides. Therefore, there were some young black South Africans who opted not to march with the party. While the majority of the protestors were black, the white minority was disproportionately represented.
The protests were also dominated by Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, who were dressed in red berets and red overalls. The Economic Freedom Fighters represent the black majority, calling for the transfer of land and industry to blacks. The stark ideological differences between these two prominent parties was not lost on Malema, who said that “All political parties have come together to send one message. Zuma must leave office, and the soonest he does that, the better…”
It is important to note that the protests only took place in South Africa’s urban centres. It will be interesting to see if the protests make their way to rural areas, such as KwaZulu-Natal, which are known for supporting Zuma.
At a political level, little is expected to change. The ANC has previously supported Zuma, thus he is expected to survive a no-confidence vote that is to be held in parliament at the end of this month. A small opposition party has put forth the idea of having a secret ballot in order to give some ANC lawmakers the opportunity to vote against Zuma without the fear of backlash from ruling party loyalists.