Churches Join South Africa Rights Groups in Plea to Zuma to Quit

  • Civil-rights groups seek president's ouster for breaching law
  • Ruling African National Congress has rallied behind Zuma

South African churches and civil-rights groups pledged to pressure President Jacob Zuma to resign after the nation’s highest court said he violated the constitution and his oath of office.

Human-rights activists, church groups and veterans of the ruling African National Congress gathered outside the nation’s Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday to demand that Zuma, 73, step down or be fired. They said they would start a protest campaign after the ANC used its majority in parliament on Tuesday to block an impeachment motion brought by the opposition.

“We need to unite to complete our journey to freedom,” said Cheryl Carolus, the ANC’s former deputy secretary-general who has served as South Africa’s high commissioner to London. “We cannot do it with this kind of leadership and these kind of values, and that is why I also call on my president to step down.”

The campaign is the latest challenge to Zuma’s seven-year-old administration, which has been marred by scandal and controversy, and comes months before local elections on Aug. 3. His decision in December to replace his respected finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little-known lawmaker sparked a selloff of the rand and the nation’s bonds. The home upgrade scandal has further dented confidence in an administration that’s struggling to revive a stagnating economy and cut a 25 percent unemployment rate.

Anglican Church

Those backing the campaign include the Anglican Church of SA‚ the Evangelical Alliance‚ the South African Christian Leadership Initiative‚ the United Front‚ Corruption Watch and the Treatment Action Campaign. Former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils and former Constitutional Court judge Zac Jacoob were among those who voiced their support.

Several of the same groups have previously staged anti-corruption protests that attracted limited support, said Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst at the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

“A large number of South Africans will be sympathetic to what they are saying,” Fakir said. “Are they going to remove Zuma? That’s not going to happen.”

More than 240 groups have joined the “Unite Against Corruption” campaign that will seek Zuma’s ouster through nationwide protests and other action, according to Zwelinzima Vavi, the former general secretary of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor group. Thirty-four labor unions will meet on Thursday to discuss their participation, he said.

Anti-Zuma Drive

While the campaigners didn’t specify when protests will start, they called on South Africans to mark April 27, the anniversary of the end of white-minority rule, as a day to unite behind the anti-Zuma drive.

The Constitutional Court ruled on March 31 that the president “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution” because he didn’t abide by graft ombudsman Thuli Madonsela’s 2014 directive to repay taxpayers’ money spent on renovating his private home.

While Zuma apologized in a televised address for the frustration and confusion the scandal had caused, he said he acted in good faith and never intentionally did anything illegal. He pledged to comply with the court order to repay part of the 215.9 million rand ($14.2 million) spent on non-security-related features at his rural home in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal Province.

The ANC’s parliamentary caucus defended the party’s support for Zuma on Wednesday, saying that the Constitutional Court didn’t rule that the president was guilty of a “serious violation” of the constitution.