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S.Africans march against Zuma after finance U-turn

Thousands of protesters marched through South African cities on Wednesday demanding President Jacob Zuma’s resignation after he triggered economic turmoil by sacking his respected finance minister.

Zuma was left badly bruised when he fired Nhlanhla Nene last week in favour of little-known backbencher David van Rooyen, who was himself removed after only four days in office.

Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) party, which has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, won a general election easily last year but could lose power in some major municipalities at local polls in 2016.

“We had such hopes in 1994 because of all the struggles to remove apartheid,” Theresa Giorza, 55, a university teacher, told AFP at the protest in central Johannesburg, which attracted about 2,000 marchers.

“There were good leaders in place, and support for ANC at home and abroad,” she said.

“Over time, lots of people started to feel it was going wrong. It has gone from bad to worse. Now it’s just rotten.”

The debacle over finance ministers triggered a market rout and fuelled opposition to Zuma, who has been buffeted by corruption scandals, a dire economy and charges of tarnishing Nelson Mandela’s legacy.

Handing Van Rooyen the key finance portfolio underlined widespread fears that corrupt Zuma loyalists were calling the shots in government.

“This was another attempt to blunt the instruments of democracy,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, one of the march organisers.

“They were wanting to grab the treasury for the interests of (those) who are eating from the carcass of our state.

“Jacob Zuma has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader of a sophisticated democracy and economy.”

– ‘Recall Zuma now’ –

Placards at the march in Johannesburg read “21 Years of Undemocratic Rule” and “Recall Zuma Now”.

Other protests were held in Cape Town and Pretoria.

Last weekend, in one of the biggest crises of his rule, Zuma was forced into a dramatic U-turn, sacking Van Rooyen and re-appointing Pravin Gordhan, a steadying hand who was finance minister from 2009 to 2014.

During the debacle, the rand collapsed to historic lows as foreign investors pulled out and government bond yields jumped in a bout of pessimism over the future of Africa’s most advanced economy.

Wednesday’s marches were held on the Day of Reconciliation, an annual holiday on which the president makes a speech promoting better race relations after the era of white-minority rule.

Zuma made no direct mention of the financial downturn, saying only work was “continuing to grow the economy so that we can create jobs… under difficult conditions given the global economic climate.”

On Wednesday, Moody’s cut South Africa’s outlook from stable to negative in the latest downgrade by rating agencies.

Hit by power shortages, falling commodities prices and rising debt, the country’s economy is set to see growth of 1.4 percent this year, the slowest since 2009.

The rand has tumbled 23 percent against the dollar in 2015.