POLITICAL UNREST

South Africa’s Jacob Zuma faces growing calls to resign as corruption scandals mount

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 10:49pm

Thousands of South Africans demonstrated on Wednesday for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma, who is enmeshed in scandals that critics say are undermining the country’s democracy.

It is not possible to turn the situation around [as long as Zuma remains president]
Sipho Pityana of Save South Africa

The protests in the administrative capital of Pretoria came as a court ordered the release of a state watchdog report about allegations that a business family linked to Zuma sought to influence some cabinet post selections to benefit its own business interests. The public protector’s office must release the report on Wednesday, the North Gauteng High Court ruled.

Zuma earlier sought to block the release of the report, but his lawyer, Anthea Platt, said he was dropping the effort.

The possibility of new revelations of alleged wrongdoing at top levels of the South African government is likely to increase pressure on Zuma, who apologised earlier this year after the Constitutional Court said he flouted the constitution in a scandal over more than US$20 million in state funds used to upgrade his rural home. Zuma eventually paid back more than US$500,000, an amount determined by the national treasury.

In a separate scandal, the director of the National Prosecuting Authority this week dropped fraud charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan following an outcry by South Africans who suspected the move to prosecute Gordhan was an attempt by government factions to take control of the national treasury. Prosecutors said the original charges were not politically motivated.

On Wednesday, business executives, religious leaders and others gathered in a Pretoria cathedral to demand that Zuma quit. They said alleged corruption linked to the president was undermining one of Africa’s biggest economies, which is experiencing weak growth, as well as a constitution that was crafted after the end of white minority rule in 1994.

“It is not possible to turn the situation around” as long as Zuma remains president, said Sipho Pityana of Save South Africa, a coalition of groups that say they seek to protect the constitution.

Separate rallies were also held in Pretoria by South Africa’s two biggest opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters. The marches were mostly peaceful, but some shop windows were smashed. Four people were arrested for throwing stones at passing cars, the African News Agency reported.

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Later, members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, many wearing red berets and red shirts, marched to the Union Buildings, which houses the offices of Zuma and other government officials. There, protesters briefly clashed with police who set off stun grenades and fired rubber bullets.

The government said in a statement that South Africans have the right to protest peacefully and that police were prepared to act to protect property.

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Some members of the ruling African National Congress party also want the president to resign. The ANC, which took power after apartheid, lost several key municipalities in local elections in August, partly because of public dissatisfaction with the president.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, founded by the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa’s first black president, is among groups that say Zuma is failing in his duties.

Zuma has not commented this week on growing calls for his ouster. He is scheduled to chair a forum in Harare on Thursday with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.