South Africa trade union march demands Zuma step down
Cosatu backs Ramaphosa to succeed the president as ANC leader.
South Africa’s biggest trade union federation brought thousands of workers on to the streets of cities to protest against corruption under President Jacob Zuma, and demand that Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president, replace him.
Wednesday’s national strike, organised by Cosatu, which has 1.7m members, and the South African Communist party, took place in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other big cities across the country.
That the protest was even called for reveals the deep fractures within the ruling African National Congress over Mr Zuma’s scandal-hit leadership — including his ties to the Gupta business family — as Cosatu and the Communist party are part of the ruling African National Congress alliance.
“This strike is not against the ANC or government, but against those stealing our party and government,” said Blade Nzimande, the Communist party’s leader.
The Guptas have been accused of using their influence with Mr Zuma to control state contracts and ministerial appointments, claims which they and the president deny.
Cosatu was previously among Mr Zuma’s biggest backers, helping him to win the ANC leadership in 2007, but it broke with him last year and called for his resignation after he fired Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, in March.
The federation has backed Mr Ramaphosa to succeed Mr Zuma as the ANC’s leader when he steps down at a party vote in December. Mr Zuma’s second and final term as state president is scheduled to end in 2019.
Protesters in Johannesburg and Durban sang “We are ready for Ramaphosa” and “Viva Ramaphosa” and chanted “Zuma must go”. Mr Ramaphosa, a former trade union activist during the struggle against apartheid who later used his political connections to go into business, is running on an anti-corruption ticket against Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Mr Zuma’s ex-wife.
Sdumo Dlamini, the head of Cosatu, said that Mr Ramaphosa should be “given a chance to lead” the party. “We have a direct say in the leadership of the ANC because it impacts us. We are a part of the ANC‚” he said.
Groups representing business, including the South African Chamber of Mines, backed the protest by Cosatu.
But the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country’s biggest trade union which broke with the federation in 2014, said the protest was a “desperate attempt to remain relevant” by Cosatu.
“If Cosatu had even a shred of revolutionary consciousness left, they would make a clean break from the ANC,” said Irvin Jim, the union’s general secretary. “But their appetite for power and their dependence on patronage networks will keep them from taking this bold step.”
Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg