President Jacob Zuma stands next to Limpho Hani, widow of Chris Hani. Picture: BOIKHUTSO NTSOKO/TMG DIGITAL
President Jacob Zuma stands next to Limpho Hani, widow of Chris Hani. Picture: BOIKHUTSO NTSOKO/TMG DIGITAL

The marches that took place last week demonstrate that racism is "real and exists in our country", President Jacob Zuma says.

Zuma was addressing a wreath-laying ceremony for former South African Communist Party general secretary Chris Hani in Boksburg on Monday.

It was his first public address since tens of thousands of South Africans took to the streets on Friday to call on him to step down.

Zuma dismissed the marches as a sign of the "resurgence of racism in the country".

"It is clear that racists have become more emboldened … the marches that took place last week demonstrate that racism is real and exists in our country.

"Many posters displayed beliefs we thought we buried in 1994," Zuma said.

He told ANC and SACP supporters that posters seen during the marches portrayed black people as "monkeys".

"It is clear some of our white compatriots view black people as … lesser human beings," he said.

"The racist onslaught has become more direct and is no longer hidden."

Zuma urged supporters to fight the racism he said was on display last week during the marches.

"We can’t allow racists to take our country backwards … we call upon all freedom loving South Africans to fight against racism."

He said Hani had "abhorred" racism.

Zuma came face to face with his detractors in the SACP and Cosatu at the memorial — both alliance partners have also called on him to step down.

He delivered his address and left to attend a meeting of party officials at Luthuli House before the ANC allies delivered their messages of support at the event.

During the wreath-laying ceremony, SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila was booed by the crowd, mostly made up of ANC members from Ekurhuleni.

The event was organised by the Ekurhuleni municipality, whose mayor, Mzwandile Masina, is among Zuma’s loyal backers.

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