Thousands of South Africans gathered in major cities Friday to demonstrate against President Jacob Zuma, whose dismissal of the finance minister fueled concerns over government corruption and a struggling economy.
Protesters began marches in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and other big metropolitan areas to push for the resignation of the scandal-tainted Zuma, who for now retains the support of a ruling party facing an internal revolt against the president.
“Fire Zuma,” read some placards.
A march organized by the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s biggest opposition party, was expected to pass near the headquarters of the ruling African National Congress in downtown Johannesburg. ANC members in military uniforms who oppose the protest were posted outside.
The government appealed for calm and said it respects the right of South Africans to protest peacefully, a legacy of the struggle against white minority rule that ended in 1994 with the country’s first all-race vote and the election of Nelson Mandela as president.
Pravin Gordhan, who was fired as finance minister in a late-night Cabinet reshuffle a week ago, was widely respected for his anti-corruption stance. The Standard & Poor’s agency lowered South Africa’s foreign currency credit rating after the dismissal, citing political instability and threats to economic growth.
Gordhan was seen as a counter to the alleged influence of the Gupta family, Indian immigrant businessmen who have been accused of trying to influence some of Zuma’s Cabinet picks. The Guptas deny any wrongdoing, and Zuma has said there was nothing improper in the way he chose ministers.
Zuma and the ruling party have been weakened by other scandals around the president. Zuma was forced to reimburse some state money after the Constitutional Court ruled against him last year in a dispute over millions of dollars spent on his private home.