Marches in cities around South Africa on Friday saw an estimated 60 000 people demanding Zuma quit the presidency.
“We don’t care about his birthday nor do we recognise him as the leader of this country. Ours is to stand united with the people of South Africa in defending our land against corruption,” said UDM leader Bantu Holomisa.
The rand, meanwhile, continued its slide yesterday after a second ratings agency, Fitch, downgraded SA’s credit status to “junk” after last week’s firing of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister and the cabinet reshuffle which prompted yesterday’s protests.
Fitch followed S&P Global Ratings’ downgrade on Monday.
Economist Dawie Roodt advised South Africans not to panic.
Roodt said the latest downgrade would have minimal effect on an average consumer in the short term.
“The rating means South Africa is not seen as an investment destination.
“The rating agencies do not determine what will happen to the country. It is about what has happened.
“If we get a bit of political stability, the rand – which is hugely undervalued – will pick up.”
But Ian Cruickshanks, the SA Institute for Race Relations’ chief economist, said the downgrade was “disastrous”. He said it would “weaken standards of governance and public finances”.
Friday's protests included one of the biggest marches since democracy in central Cape Town where about 10 000 people made their way to Parliament to voice their displeasure with Zuma.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu took part in a protest in Hermanus where he and wife, Leah, were staying this week.
Thousands of people in Cape Town’s suburbs formed human chains.
Addressing the 25 000-strong crowd that marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria under the #Save South Africa campaign, former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said electing Zuma had been a grave error.
“We made a mistake in elevating a crook who was facing 783 charges. The first thing he did was to dissolve the Scorpions and some of us stupidly gave him a round of applause,” Vavi said.
He said people should mobilise against any nuclear deal.
“Your children and your grandchildren and many generations to come would still be paying the Russians, Zuma’s friends, until we are mortgaged as a country to Russia and France,” Vavi said.
In Johannesburg, four people were injured after police fired rubber bullets at protesters who were attacking other protesters with stones, said Wayne Minnaar, Johannesburg Metro Police Department spokesperson.
Zuma’s supporters also gathered to support him on Friday. About 300 camouflage-clad veterans of the ANC’s now-disbanded Umkhonto we Sizwe military wing ringed Luthuli House in Johannesburg, mounting mock parades and singing.
Friday's marches, said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, were the beginning of bigger things to come.
“We have started a movement for change. This is the start of rolling mass action.
“We will continue with the same actions until the ANC comes to its senses and agrees to remove him (Zuma),” he said.
ACDP president Kenneth Meshoe said: “South Africans are gatvol.”
Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem said the peaceful protests were reminiscent of the 1980s when people showed a united front.
“The people of this country have come out to show that they are sick of this president who thinks he is above anybody and the law. We are encouraged to see the rainbow nation united with one voice to say enough is enough,” he said.
Analysts, however, doubted the marches would shake the president.
On Wednesday the ANC rejected calls for Zuma to resign and said its MPs would vote against a motion of no confidence in Zuma on April 18, a key rallying call for the marchers on Friday. Analysts said Zuma has retained popularity in rural areas despite his waning popularity in urban centres.
The National Treasury, meanwhile, acknowledged that the downgrade was a setback for the country, but said the government remained committed to the fiscal policy outlined in the February Budget and to improving the running of state-owned enterprises.
“We urge all South Africans to remain positive and to continue to work hard in turning this economy around.”
Meanwhile, some members of the ANC are looking forward to celebrating the president’s big day.
Speaking at the ANC Youth League’s mini-rally in Ekurhuleni this week, ANC national working committee member and Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said members of the ruling party in Gauteng would come out in numbers to celebrate Zuma’s birthday.
Mokonyane told the crowd Zuma was “going nowhere and would remain president until 2019”.