Pretoria - If President Jacob Zuma wants to label those calling for him to step down racists, then so be it, EFF leader Julius Malema said on Wednesday.
"If you call us racist, we are proud racists, because we don't want this man here," Malema said in an obvious jab to the president's criticism of last week's anti-Zuma protests.
"The marches that took place last week demonstrated that racism is real and exists in our country," Zuma said during the unveiling of a plaque on the declaration of Chris Hani's grave and the Chris Hani Memorial and Walk of Remembrance in Boksburg as a national heritage site on Monday. Zuma was apparently referring to certain messages written on some of the protesters' placards.
Zuma also said incidents of racism had become more direct, as racists no longer feared being caught or exposed.
"If not wanting Zuma is racism, then we are racist. If not wanting Zuma [means] you got money from white people, then we received money from white people," Malema said in response.
"We are proud to have received that money from white people, because anyone who finances a fight against corruption, that person is a patriot. We don't care whether you are white, Indian, black, we are here to defend the future of our children," Malema told a sea of mostly EFF supporters who had gathered at the Union Buildings' south lawns, calling for Zuma to step down.
'We will never be defeated by an illiterate president'
The protest, which started at Church Square at noon, was attended by members of political parties including the EFF, DA, Cope, ACDP, Agang and APC.
"When the state of South Africa is threatened, we put aside our differences," Malema said, explaining that the parties were doing it in an effort to win back the country.
"We must salute these leaders, because when we are united we will never be defeated by an illiterate president."
The EFF acknowledged UDM leader Bantu Holomisa as the driving force behind the march, and for making sure that all the parties convened in Pretoria on Wednesday morning.Addressing the crowd of thousands, Holomisa said South Africans were concerned that the ANC had allowed South Africa to decline under its watch.
"We can't continue marching forever, we must find a way to converge under one roof to discuss South Africa's future."
'They tried to divide us but they failed'
He said South Africans who had turned out in their numbers should be proud of themselves as they had displayed their patriotism.
"We are sending a signal to the ruling party that, although we respect the mandate of the electorate, they need to come up with a plan to take Zuma out of Parliament," Holomisa told a cheering crowd.
The potential impacts of the country's recent junk status rating would likely lead to the rich getting poorer, but the poor would be left destitute, he said.
DA MP Phumzile van Damme also took a jibe at Zuma's remarks about "racist protesters", saying Wednesday's march had proved that all South Africans cared about their country.
"They tried to divide us, but they failed," she told the crowd.
"They told us we were racist, they tried to tell us that we don't understand, they told us that they will pick up the rand," she said.
Cope leader Mosioua Lekota told the crowd that it was "the first time in South Africa opposition parties were united in saying Zuma must go".
He said that, under former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, ANC MPs were allowed to follow their conscience.
The ACDP's Wayne Thring added his party's thoughts on Zuma as well, calling him "disingenuous".
"Zuma saying the march was racist was disingenuous. [He] has brought harm to South Africa. United, we say it's time for him to go.
"When people in South Africa come together in a fashion like this, nothing is impossible for us to do."
Speakers who referred to Zuma as "President Zuma" drew cries of disapproval from the crowd.
'Don't forget who did this to us'
The APC's Themba Godi told the crowd that the ructions that they were seeing in the ANC were a fight over "who should loot, not for our people".
"We are here because South Africa deserves better than what it has. Public leadership must have integrity and be accountable," Godi said.
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa told the crowd that they should not allow certain leaders to convince them that a junk status rating was a blessing in disguise, or a trick by foreign powers.
"There are very real repercussions for the economic downgrade for South Africa, when the cost of bread goes up, remember who is responsible. When our families struggle to make ends meet and the rand keeps losing value, don't forget who did this to us," Hlengwa said.
He said Zuma had failed South Africans by choosing to serve himself instead of the country.
"Nobody can deprive Zuma of his achievements as one of our freedom fighters, but he has proven again and again that he is not here to serve South Africa. He is a failed liberation fighter and he needs to go," Hlengwa said. 'Proud moment'
Save SA leader Sipho Pityana, who led a separate march on April 7, was also part of Wednesday's march.
"This is a proud moment for the country," he said.
He said the ANC had allowed thieves into the country's corridors of power and allowed them to steal from the social grant scheme.
"We have had enough of these thieves... they've captured the president, they've captured the country."
Thousands of marchers gathered at Church Square as early as 08:30, singing and dancing under grey skies. Members of the EFF, dressed in red T-shirts and their signature berets, held up sticks and placards as they sang struggle songs.
With raincoats and umbrellas in hand, members of the public also held up placards with their own special messages for Zuma.
A sea of blue later descended on the square as scores of DA supporters arrived.
Other parties also joined the growing crowd of predominantly EFF members.
By the time the crowd began its march at noon, the clouds had started to clear and the sun peaked from behind them.