Taking an active role in the national protests calling for the resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein is calling on the government to “let our people go.”
Largely peaceful protests were held across the country on Friday amid accusations of corruption following a cabinet reshuffle by Zuma, and in particular the removal of the widely respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last week.
Addressing thousands of demonstrators at Union Building in Pretoria on Friday, Goldstein referred to the upcoming Passover holiday to call for freedom for the people of South Africa.
“It’s the great festival of freedom. And why are we all here? Because we want our freedom. Freedom for all South Africans,” he said. “And in three days we celebrate the festival of Passover.
And Moses went to Pharaoh and what did Moses say to Pharaoh? He said ‘let my people go!’ We want freedom! We say to the president and to this government, let my people go! “We want freedom, freedom from corruption! Freedom from state capture....freedom from self-enrichment, freedom to all the people of South Africa,” he said to cheers as the audience repeated his chant of “let my people go.”
Zuma’s sacking of Gordhan in last Thursday’s reshuffle has outraged allies and opponents alike, undermined his authority and caused rifts in the AN C, which has governed South Africa since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
Fitch on Friday followed S&P Global Ratings and downgraded South Africa to “junk,” citing Gordhan’s dismissal as one reason.
S&P had issued its downgrade on South Africa in an unscheduled review on Monday.
Zuma’s party, the African National Congress, accepted Gordhan’s removal, saying his relationship with the president was “irretrievable.” Critics countered that the move was meant to remove obstacles to Zuma’s control of the national treasury and to benefit his allies in the country’s business community.
Two groups of protesters also scuffled outside the Gupta family mansion in Saxonwold on Friday, in Johannesburg’s wealthy Sandton business district.
The family’s friendship with the scandal-troubled Zuma has been an issue for years, amid allegations that they have undue influence on the president.
Both Zuma and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.
Goldstein told The Jerusalem Post ahead of Friday’s march that his participation in the rally was part of an ongoing campaign to ensure that these calls for justice, fairness and morality stay at the top of public consciousness. As a religious leader, Goldstein feels that Torah values make it imperative to speak out against injustice and corruption.
Goldstein is a member of the National Religious Leaders Council, which released a statement last week calling on the president to step down.
“It is evident that we have gone beyond a leadership crisis in our country,” their statement said.
Zuma “has lost all moral legitimacy to govern and therefore should do the honorable thing and step down. South Africans can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch President Jacob Zuma ruin our beloved country, which we struggled so hard for.”
Goldstein also released a Passover video message encouraging all South Africans to join the protests. He said that God has blessed South Africa with the gift of freedom that had come about through the sacrifices of many.
“So we must use our freedom to make our voices heard, especially at this historic time.”JTA and Reuters contributed to this report.