President Jacob Zuma says that the nation-wide marches against widespread corruption that has taken hold of government under his leadership were racist, adding that racists have become more emboldened.
The president was speaking at a wreath laying ceremony commemorating the 24th anniversary of the murder of Chris Hani, who he said was a proponent of a non-racial society – a dream which South Africa had not yet realised, as evidenced by last week’s marches.
“The marches that took place last week demonstrated that racism is real and exists in our country.
“Many placards and posters displayed beliefs that we thought had been buried in 1994, with some posters depicting black people as baboons. It is clear that some of our white compatriots regard black people as being lesser human beings or sub-human,” Zuma said.
Approximately 60,000 South Africans of all races took to the streets last week, demonstrating their dissatisfaction with president Zuma, calling on him to step down.
The protests came just days after global ratings firm, S&P Global, downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status, citing Zuma’s political moves as its basis. The president had earlier reshuffled his cabinet, reportedly taking out political opponents including finance minister, Pravin Gordhan.
A second ratings firm, Fitch, then followed S&P Global’s lead, also downgrading South Africa to junk while the protests were taking place, citing the same reasons.
Civil action groups were uniting under the banner of fighting corruption, which has become widespread under the current president and his network of patronage.
In his address at the memorial, Zuma made no mention of any of the claims made against him, instead focusing purely on what he deemed to be racial elements.
“The racist onslaught has become more direct and is no longer hidden as was the case in the early years of our constitutional democratic order. Racists no longer fear being caught or exposed.
“In the fight to combat racism, we should look beyond only overt racist utterances and public displays that we saw during the marches last week. We should also look at the ideological and institutional machinations that continue to give racism more traction.
“Racism is a gross violation of human rights and plunged this country into decades of conflict in the past. We cannot allow and assist racists to take our country backwards,” president Zuma said.
In afternoon trade on Monday, the rand lost a further 1% against the dollar, edging towards R14.00 (R13.88), having threatened a move below R13.00 prior to the president’s Cabinet reshuffle – his eleventh since May 2009.