Thousands of South Africans marched on Wednesday against corruption under President Jacob Zuma’s rule, in protests led by unions which have backed a rival to Zuma’s faction as the next leader of the ANC.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which is in an alliance with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), called on its more than one million members to strike and join marches in major cities across South Africa.
Though the demonstrations are officially against graft broadly, much of the frustration and anger is aimed at Zuma.
Throngs of protesters marched to parliament in Cape Town singing songs and waving placards emblazoned with “Zuma must go” and “corruption is a crime against humanity”.
“Things are just going down under President Zuma,” textile worker Florence Titus told Reuters.
“He needs to play a president´s role not just be there to fill his pockets and his family´s pockets. He must step down.”
Senior members of the ANC have also called for Zuma to quit in recent months following a swell of allegations that his friends, the Gupta family, wield undue influence over the award of state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The raiding of taxpayers funds by outside interests is known locally as “state capture”. The Guptas and Zuma deny wrongdoing and say they are victims of a politically-motivated witchhunt.
Zuma survived an attempt in parliament to force him from office in August, but was left politically wounded after some ANC members backed the opposition’s no-confidence motion.
He can remain head of state until a parliamentary election in 2019, although the next ANC leader could edge him out next year.
The allegations of widespread corruption in the awarding of government contracts worth billions of dollars have also dented investor confidence in an economy which fell into a recession earlier in 2017.
“The president must go, he must resign because this state capture is killing our society,” Sebenzile Kiva, a protester in Cape Town, said.
“Our money is being given to a certain family and our economy is going down. Cyril will make a better president because he is clean.”
The ANC will pick its next leader in December with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s camp prioritising fighting corruption, boosting economic growth and winning back the trust of supporters who have become disillusioned with the party under Zuma.
Zuma’s powerful faction is expected to back his ex-wife and former African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, although other candidates could still emerge as serious contenders.
“Wednesday´s series of marches and protests that target corruption and State capture are also targeting Mr Zuma and his succession faction in the ANC,” said Gary van Staden, political analyst at NKC Research.
“If the labour movement can produce a show of force reminiscent of its halcyon days, that would prove a major boost to the aspirations of Mr Ramaphosa.”
Some analysts say an opposition coalition could unseat the ANC at the next election, an unthinkable scenario a few years ago for a party that has led comfortably since it swept to power under Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid in 1994. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard and Wendell Roelf; additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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