More than 30,000 people rallied in cities across South Africa against President Jacob Zuma as the march in Johannesburg turned violent when demonstrators clashed with police.
The protesters are demanding that Zuma quit after a cabinet reshuffle triggered the latest crisis of his presidency.
In Johannesburg, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at some African National Congress protesters, injuring a man and a woman, a Reuters witness said. Police were trying to prevent the ANC supporters from breaching a cordon separating them from backers of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party.
The DA, which had called for the marches, held a rally of more than 10,000 people a few streets away that was calm.
Zuma’s sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in the reshuffle last Thursday has outraged allies and opponents alike, undermined his authority and caused rifts in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has governed South Africa since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
Gordhan was widely respected for his anti-corruption stance. He 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.
Rating agency S&P Global Ratings cited Gordhan’s dismissal as one reason for its downgrade of South Africa to “junk” in an unscheduled review on Monday.
Syriana Maesela, 65, a retiree, was on her way by train to Pretoria to join the march, carrying a South African flag.
“I am marching to get the ANC to take us seriously and respect our wishes by letting the president go,” she said. “We are unhappy about his leadership because he does not seem to care about the people.
The incessant blare of “vuvuzela” trumpets stirred the 5,000-strong crowds. Hundreds of motorbikes, many waving South Africa’s flag, roared past the crowd, who cheered them on.
Zuma has welcomed one of the marches, by the civil society group Save South Africa (SaveSA) that was planned for outside the Union Buildings, the site of Zuma’s offices in the capital, Pretoria, saying it was the group’s legal right to do so.
SaveSA is made up of civil society groups, business leaders and prominent individuals.
Zuma, 74, has faced protests in the past. The ANC on Wednesday rejected calls for Zuma to quit, and analysts doubted marches would shake the president.
The ANC said its members in parliament would vote to defeat a motion of no confidence against Zuma on April 18, a key rallying call for the marchers on Friday.
And Zuma supporters also gathered. About 300 camouflage-clad veterans of the ANC’s now-disbanded Umkhonto we Sizwe (MKMVA ) military wing ringed the party’s Luthuli House building in downtown Johannesburg, mounting mock parades and singing in support of the president.
Some clad in the yellow, green and gold colors of the ANC also danced, waving placards emblazoned with the words: “I’m prepared to die for my ANC” and “Hands off our President”.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, led a crowd of about 10,000 people on a 1 km march in downtown Johannesburg. Thousands of marchers wearing blue DA T-shirts gathered, many bussed in from elsewhere. Some held placards saying “Fire Zuma”.
In Cape Town, motorists hooted in support of the march holding up South African flags as about 10,000 people gathered.
Zuma and the ruling party, which suffered big losses in municipal elections last year, 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.