Skirmishes broke out in Johannesburg as more than 60,000 people marched in South African cities on Friday in largely peaceful protests to demand President Jacob Zuma quit after a cabinet reshuffle triggered the latest crisis of his presidency.
In the country’s commercial hub Johannesburg, four people were injured after police “fired rubber bullets at protesters who were attacking other protesters with stones,” Johannesburg Metro Police Department spokesman Wayne Minaar said.
Some backers of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) were trying to breach a cordon separating them from members of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).
Zuma’s sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in last Thursday’s reshuffle has outraged allies and opponents alike, undermined his authority and caused rifts in the ANC, which has governed South Africa since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
Fitch on Friday followed S&P Global Ratings and downgraded South Africa to “junk”, citing Gordhan’s dismissal as one reason. S&P had issued its downgrade on South Africa in an unscheduled review on Monday.
Two groups of protesters also scuffled outside the Gupta family mansion in Saxonwold, in Johannesburg’s wealthy Sandton business district and the Police presence was beefed up outside the residence to keep anti-Zuma and pro-Zuma protesters apart.
The family’s friendship with the scandal-troubled Zuma has been an issue for years, amid allegations that they have undue influence on the president. Both Zuma and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.
The violence, however, was not replicated anywhere else in the country.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, which had called for the march in Johannesburg, held a rally of more than 10,000 people that was calm, a few streets from the scene of the violence. Some held placards saying “Fire Zuma”.
“Our country is in crisis,” said Maimane, who wore a bullet-proof vest under his shirt after the DA said it had received threats to the protest’s leaders. “The time to act is now.”
In the capital Pretoria, about 15,000 people gathered in a field outside the Union Buildings, the site of Zuma’s offices.
“We are unhappy about his leadership because he does not seem to care about the people,” said Syriana Maesela, 65, a retiree carrying a South African flag. “The irony is I did the same thing in 1976 when I was a student. I also marched then,” she said, referring protests against the apartheid regime.