Tens of thousands of South Africans took to the streets nationwide on Friday, calling on embattled President Jacob Zuma to resign. The African National Congress (ANC) party has rejected calls for him to quit.
The main protest marches took place in six major towns: Pretoria, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and Durban.
Several protesters told DW's correspondent why they were displeased with President Zuma’s leadership.
"We are just trying to tell the people of South Africa that enough is enough and Zuma must go" said Thembalani Gumede. "He has done a lot to destroy this country. It is time for him to go."
Kim Roots took issue with the recent sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
"The South African rand has dropped and we have lost lots and lots of money, Roots said. " He [Zuma) is not supporting housing, people have no money."
Bheka Ntuli from Durban said it was time South Africa sought a commited and passionate president who would listen to the masses.
In the capital Pretoria, the demonstrators marched to the government’s Union Buildings, accompanied by members of major political parties and non governmental organizations.
Zuma, who came to power in 2009, has faced a series of corruption scandals during his time in office
Mark Heywood, the leader of the Save South Africa movement that organized the mammoth march,said the turnout was a clear message to Zuma. "Zuma, as the saying goes, has struck a rock, but he struck too hard now because the people are saying it is our turn to have a say," Heywood said.
The leader of the main opposition Democratic Aliiance(DA) Mmusi Maimane, who led the demonstration in Johannesburg, said the protests were about protecting the hard-earned democracy of Nelson Mandela.
"When I look at the beauty and the tapestry of our people, i am always reminded that it will always be the people for democracy and for the people and no one can defeat us," Maimane told a crowd of protesters.
Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) also staged its own rallies. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse an ANC crowd in central Johannesburg, injuring at least one person.
The ANC spokesperson Khusela Sangoni said they were not deterred by the protests. She blamed 'opportunistic elements' for taking advantage of the myriad problems facing the country.
"We think that it is unfortunate that the cabinet reshuffle would have given some sort of re-emergence to a movement that was defeated." Sangoni said."I think it is opportunistic elements that will ride on any signs of disunity within the African National Congress," she added.
The South African Human Rights Commission expressed its disquiet at the threats and intimidation directed at members of the ANC Youth League who took part in the marches.
"We are very concerned that people who are exercising their constitutionally enshrined rights are being treated as enemies," Gail Smith, a senior official of the Human Rights Commission, said.
Political analysts said it was clear that the people have had enough of the inept leadership of Zuma and the corruption which has dogged his presidency.
"Once you take this problem and address it, you still have to work very hard to address the concerns that have not been addressed," Angela Flick a Johannesburg-based political analyst noted. "What the 55 million people want is a decent way of living, better jobs, better economic opportunities, services in their communities and a safe environmenet for their children," she added.
Pressure mounts on Zuma
Calls for Zuma to resign have increased since the president sacked respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last week, sending the rand into free fall and prompting the rating agency Standard and Poor's to downgrade South Africa's sovereign credit status to junk.
Economic growth slowed to 0.3 per cent last year and more than a quarter of the workforce is unemployed.
Zuma's reputation has also been damaged by the Nkandla scandal, in which he was found to have used taxpayers' money to upgrade his rural home, and by his close ties to the Gupta business family.
The sacking of Gordhan has drawn criticism even from senior members of the ANC. Three former cabinet members whom Zuma axed together with Gordhan, resigned from parliament this week.
A no-confidence vote in the president has been scheduled for April 18.