* Main opposition party, civil society take to streets
* Zuma welcomes protests outside his offices
* Firing of finance minister triggered anger at Zuma
By Ed Stoddard and TJ Strydom
PRETORIA/JOHANNESBURG, April 7 Thousands marched
in major South African cities to protest against President Jacob
Zuma on Friday, demanding he quit after a cabinet reshuffle
triggered the latest crisis of his presidency.
Zuma's sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in the
reshuffle last Thursday has outraged allies and opponents alike,
undermined his authority and caused rifts in the ruling African
National Congress (ANC), which has governed South Africa since
the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
Rating agency S&P Global Ratings cited Gordhan's dismissal
as one reason for its downgrade of South Africa to "junk" in an
unscheduled review on Monday.
Syriana Maesela, 65, a retiree was on her way by train to
Pretoria to join the march carrying a South African flag.
"I am marching to get the ANC to take us seriously and
respect our wishes by letting the president go," she said. "We
are unhappy about his leadership because he does not seem to
care about the people.
"The irony is I did the same thing in 1976 when I was a
student. I also marched then," she said, referring protests
against the apartheid regime.
Zuma welcomed one of the marches, by the civil society group
Save South Africa (SaveSA) that was planned for outside the
Union Buildings, the site of Zuma's offices in the capital,
Pretoria, saying it was the group's legal right to do so.
SaveSA is made up of civil society groups, business leaders
and prominent individuals.
Zuma, 74, has faced protests in the past. The ANC on
Wednesday rejected calls for Zuma to quit, and analysts doubted
marches would shake the president.
And his supporters also gathered to support him. About 300
camouflage-clad veterans of the ANC's now-disbanded Umkhonto we
Sizwe military wing ringed the party's Luthuli House building in
downtown Johannesburg, mounting mock parades and singing in
support of Zuma.
Some clad in the yellow, green and gold colours of the ANC
also danced, waving placards emblazoned with the words: "I'm
prepared to die for my ANC" and "Hands off our President".
The rand was steady against the dollar in early
trade on Friday. The currency has tumbled more than 11 percent
since March 27, when Zuma ordered Gordhan to return home from
overseas talks with investors, days before firing him.
"The rand has stabilised," Rand Merchant Bank currency
strategists John Cairns said. "The marches and the looming
weekend will keep the market cautious."
In the country's commercial hub, Johannesburg, several
residents stood along the roads, waving placards demanding that
Zuma step down.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic
Alliance (DA) party, was due to lead a march in downtown
Johannesburg, where thousands of marchers wearing blue DA
T-shirts gathered to start the march, with many bussed in from
other areas. Some held placards saying "Fire Zuma".
"This president is mishandling the presidency and he should
leave office," said Graham Fish, 62.
A "holding hands" picket was due to take place in Cape Town,
where motorists hooted in support of the march holding up South
African flags. Aabout 2,000 people were also marching in coastal
city of Durban.
(Additional reporting by Marius Bosch in Johannesburg, Wendell
Roelf in Cape Town and Rogan Ward in Durban; Writing by James
Macharia, editing by Larry King)