JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Three former South African heads of state teamed up for the first time Friday to criticize President Jacob Zuma, who faces growing calls to step down after a series of corruption scandals.
Thabo Mbeki, F.W. de Klerk and Kgalema Motlanthe spoke in Johannesburg, representing both the country's last leader under white minority rule and those who led post-apartheid South Africa along with Nelson Mandela. They launched a series of national discussions on the crisis with backing from the foundations of Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and other anti-apartheid leaders.
South Africa has seen tens of thousands protest against Zuma in recent weeks after he fired the widely respected finance minister, leading two credit ratings agencies to downgrade the country to junk status. The firing led some top leaders of the ruling African National Congress, including the deputy president, to sharply criticize Zuma.
"No person or institution should have more authority than the will of the people," Mbeki said.
De Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for their work in transitioning from white minority rule, said Zuma has failed to uphold the country's laws.
The three leaders urged South Africans to defend the constitution as many see threats to the country's democracy.
"The rose we planted in 1994 is indeed sick," Mbeki said, referring to the election that brought Mandela to power.
A court on Thursday ordered the president to explain the finance minister's firing. The ANC called the order "pandering to the whims of the opposition."
Calls are growing for Zuma to resign. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has called for a parliamentary vote of no confidence against him.
Scandals around Zuma have included the spending of millions of dollars in state funds on his private home. He has paid back some of the money.