South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa called for his countrymen to get rid of "greedy'' and "corrupt'' people, in remarks seen as an attack on President Jacob Zuma.
Ramaphosa was speaking after Jacob Zuma fired widely respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a cabinet reshuffle last week in which he purged other political opponents.
"What you are required to do as citizens of this country is to support the efforts that are going to be made by those that are going to make sure that our country lives up to values of Nelson Mandela,'' Ramaphosa said in KwaZulu-Natal province over the weekend. His speech was broadcast on the local radio station EWN on Monday morning.
"Be in support of those who will be leading that charge. Because a moment of great renewal is upon us and we should not let it go by,'' said Ramaphosa.
Since Zuma sacked Gordhan on Friday, concerns over corruption in the government are blamed for a fall in the value of the currency of South Africa, one of Africa's most industrialized economies. Gordhan was seen as a bulwark against corruption. His sacking set off an outcry by anti-Zuma factions in the ruling African National Congress and opposition parties.
Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded South Africa to junk status Monday. The junk rating is expected to add to South Africa's economic problems.
Two demonstrations are planned to protest Zuma's move against Gordhan. The opposition Democratic Alliance is organizing a march to the headquarters of Zuma's ruling party, the African National Congress in downtown Johannesburg opposition on Wednesday. Next week a coalition of groups will march to the government's headquarters, the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Opposition leader Mmusi Maimane said Monday that the marches are to protest Zuma's "hostile takeover'' of the country's treasury by "corrupt forces.''
Economists say it is likely that South Africa, which saw economic growth of just 0.5 percent last year and has an unemployment rate of around 27 percent, will be downgraded to junk status by credit ratings agencies.
Calls have been growing for Zuma to step down since August last year when the ANC lost control of key metropolitan areas in local elections, partly because of dissatisfaction with the president's performance.
"Let us act together in unity,'' said Ramaphosa. "Unite our country, unite our movement under one goal. The goal of making South Africa great. The goal of making South Africa corruption free. The goal of making South Africa a South Africa we can all be proud of and getting rid of greedy people, corrupt people within our country.''
South Africa's speaker of parliament said on Sunday that she is considering an emergency motion of no confidence against Zuma. Baleka Mbete said her office received a letter from the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, requesting that the national assembly, which is in recess until May 10, resume earlier to vote on the motion.
Although the ANC's reputation as the main movement against apartheid has been tainted by corruption allegations, it is still seen as the front-runner ahead of general elections in 2019.