A memorial service Saturday for anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada was transformed into a fierce attack on South African President Jacob Zuma, under fire after a controversial cabinet reshuffle.
Party veterans of the ruling ANC, sacked finance minister Pravin Gordhan and Kathrada’s widow lined up to criticise the state of the country as the crowd shouted “Zuma must go.”
Zuma sacked Gordhan and several other ministers on Thursday in a shock move that sent the rand currency tumbling amid fears of a political crisis in South Africa.
In a rousing speech, the sacked minister told a cheering crowd packed into the Johannesburg city hall that the country was in a “mini crisis.”
“Comrade Kathy leaves us at a time when the ANC or the democratic government and indeed our society finds itself in a mini crisis,” said Gordhan, without mentioning Zuma directly by name.
“The problems are very clear. And who is the problem and what is the problem is very clear as well,” he said prompting another round of “Zuma must go” chants from the crowd.
Some people attending the service brandished posters reading: “Zuma worst President of South Africa.”
– Worst president –
Kathrada, who was jailed alongside Mandela on Robben Island, died on Tuesday in a Johannesburg hospital after a short illness following brain surgery.
His funeral on Wednesday also turned into an anti-Zuma rally as speakers drew attention to the growing discontent within the ANC.
Kathrada had once called on Zuma to resign as president following a damning court ruling in 2016 that he had violated the constitution.
His family barred Zuma from attending his funeral.
The event in honour of the ANC stalwart — who is described as part of the “golden generation” of freedom fighters — was supposed to be an official government memorial, before authorities postponed it on Friday, without giving a reason.
Gordhan described the postponement as “petty and spiteful”.
Kathrada’s widow, Barbara Hogan, also took to the podium, hitting out at Zuma for axing Gordhan, whom she described as “one of our finest finance ministers.”
“If you had ears to hear and eyes to see, you would have not appointed four finance ministers in less than three years,” she said referring to changes in the finance ministry.
Hogan urged Zuma “to step down” as her husband had demanded.
Three members of the ANC top body, including Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa have rejected Zuma’s reshuffle.