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South Africa Jacob Zuma Protests

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Thousands of South Africans protest President Zuma

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Protests against President Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg on 7 April 2017. Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Thousands marched through major South African cities this Friday, demanding the resignation of President Jacob Zuma. This comes after his sacking of the popular finance minister fuelled widespread public anger. RFI takes a look at what's happening in the rainbow country.


Why have South Africans taken to the streets?

Two reasons: corruption and the poor state of the economy.

Since Jacob Zuma came to power in 2009, South Africa has suffered record unemployment, slowing growth and stubborn racial inequality. The country was downgraded to junk status by rating agency Standard and Poors last week, which led to the sacking of popular finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

Zuma and his party, the African National Congress (ANC), have also been hit by a series of corruption scandals.

"There are concerns about Jacob Zuma's leadership and also about the ANC," says Ralph Mathekga, an independent political analyst. "I think the reason why people took to the street is that they've realised that there's no recourse against Zuma within his own party."

The protesters are asking for Zuma to resign. Is that likely to happen?

The country's next parliamentary elections are set for 2019 and Zuma has so far survived every scandal that has touched his presidency.

He won't be able to run for a third mandate in two years per the country's constitution.

"He can remain as president until 2019, but the ANC does have this very important conference in December of this year in which it will elect new leadership," explains Daniel Silke, the director of Political Futures Consultancy. "I think that's the crucial point that the ANC should be focusing on. That will tell us whether Zuma can survive in 2018."

What do these protests mean for the ANC?

It's a good question, because the party has been dominating the South African political scene for almost three decades now, after leading the fight against apartheid.

But it slipped to 55 percent of the vote in last year's local elections -- its worst ever result.

"There's no strategy out there," warns Ralph Mathekga. "There's only one way of dealing with this: it's for the ANC leaders to be seen working for the people, it's for the ANC leaders to be seen distancing themselves from Jacob Zuma and to try to do things right. It's a very simple solution."

What does this means for the Democratic Alliance (DA), the country's main opposition?

The party could benefit from it, as it had called for the protests. The DA had already made gains during the last elections, but critics say they're not ready for power.

"The ANC had lost support last year, losing control of some of South Africa's biggest city," says Daniel Silke. "I think the affair surrounding the cabinet reshuffle will not play well amongst voters who perhaps were prepared to give the ANC another chance. What I think the ANC has failed to do is failing to understand that its urban electorate is shifting."

In the meantime, the country's parliament will vote on a motion of no confidence in the president later this month, though Zuma has easily survived previous such votes against him.

He still has a tight grip on his party; earlier this week he quelled a rebellion within the ANC.