Thousands of South Africans have poured into the streets in protests aimed at forcing President Jacob Zuma to resign or be impeached.
Anti-Zuma protests have gained momentum across the country with civil society organisations taking part in numerous demonstrations since last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, which saw Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas get fired as finance minister and deputy finance minister, respectively.
The unprecedented move by Zuma has also been largely cited by Standard & Poors to downgrade the country’s economy to sub-investment grade or junk status earlier in the week.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) members turned out in their numbers in the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD) early on Friday while some protesters camped out overnight outside Parliament in Cape Town.
In Pretoria, protesters calling for the fall of Zuma converged on Church Square in readiness to march to the Union Buildings, the seat of government.
One protester told newsmen that he was out to demonstrate against youth unemployment and corruption purportedly caused by Zuma and his cohorts, especially the controversial Gupta family accused of state capture.
Civil society organisations led by Save South Africa joined in the protests which were underway under heavy police surveillance.
However, pro-Zuma protesters have also come out in large numbers, especially in Kwazulu Natal his home province, to voice their support for President Zuma and the recent Cabinet reshuffle.
Veterans of Mkotho We-Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC during apartheid, took position outside Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg to stave off any attempts to attack the headquarters.
While an MK spokesperson said they would not disrupt the anti-Zuma marches, she said the move was necessary as protests that usually begin as peaceful marches often degenerate into violence against persons and property, and into looting.
ANC Youth League members have also come out across the country in support of President Zuma, saying that they would resist any attempt by third forces to hijack the government.
Top members of the ANC who had earlier criticised the reshuffle have since turned round to voice support for Zuma. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said in response to the calls by the opposition for the recall or impeachment of Zuma that “No army anywhere in the world allows its foot soldiers to be commanded by an enemy general”.
Mantashe said it was left for the ANC to discuss the matter within its ranks and reach a decision based on consultation.
The government has made it clear that demonstrators found guilty of any form of violence during the protests will face the might of the law.
In a series of tweets, Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) said the call for citizens to occupy the streets and skip work in defiance of Zuma’s reshuffled Cabinet could have “unexpected consequences”.
“Government assures all South Africans that Friday‚ 7th April‚ is a normal working day. We have noted social media messages which call for a shutdown of the country on Friday.
“The call made in these messages can have unexpected consequences, especially for our fragile economy‚ business and communities. Whilst the public has a democratic right to embark on protest action‚ government does not support acts of civil disobedience,” GCIS said.
“When citizens take to the streets illegally‚ we often witness violence‚ destruction of property and lawlessness. These illegal protests do not possess the characteristics of strengthening democracy‚” the government agency added.
Tony Ekata/Monitored reports