Thousands Protest Against Corruption In South Africa

Pretoria (AFP) - Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of South Africa on Wednesday to protest against corruption, as public frustration grows over a government enmeshed in graft scandals and a stagnant economy.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) led the fight to end white-minority rule, but after 20 years in power there is widespread pessimism that the benefits of democracy have only reached a small elite.

About 2,000 people gathered in Pretoria and a similar number in Cape Town in what organisers hope will develop into a broad civic movement campaigning against corruption in the government and public services.

"We are marching here against a scourge in society that is truly threatening the future of our country," Zwelinzima Vavi, one of the march organisers and a former trade union leader, told crowds outside government buildings in Pretoria.

"We have become the most unequal land in... humanity, there is no country that tolerates so much inequality as we do."

Marchers carried banners reading "corruption taxes the poor, we say tax the rich" and "apartheid stole the past, corruption steals our future."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, seen as South Africa's leading moral authority, pledged his support for the event, but was unable to attend due to recent ill-health.

"A society that assigns resources on the basis of peoples' proximity to power is no less sinful to one that assigns resources on the basis of skin colour," he said in a statement.

- 'Corruption is a virus' -

President Jacob Zuma has been the chief target of anger, with $24 million (21 million euros) of improvements to his private residence becoming a symbol of alleged government misspending.

Youth unemployment is estimated at 50 percent in South Africa, and economic growth has slowed to two percent this year.

"Corruption in South Africa is a virus, it's a cancer eating people's benefits," Sello Magano, a 36-year-old marcher in Pretoria, told AFP.

"If it wasn't for corruption, imagine how many households would be released from poverty, how many schools would be built?"

Among the speakers in the South African capital was firebrand opposition politician Julius Malema, who vowed to unseat Zuma in elections due in 2019.

The march was far smaller than organisers hoped after the government refused unionised workers the right to strike for the day.

"They've made things difficult for us, but I don't think they have done themselves any favours," said David Lewis, executive director at the non-profit organisation Corruption Watch.

"In a democracy when people talk, they expect to get heard, and then they talk louder."

On Tuesday, the ANC was forced to deny US charges that it took improper payments from Japanese construction company Hitachi in connection with the construction of multi-billion-dollar power plants.

Another national anti-corruption march has been planned for October 14.

( AFP )
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