The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), both in alliance with the ruling ANC, say the strike on Wednesday is largely against corruption, but the call to take to the streets is also seen as an indictment against President Jacob Zuma. Protests took place in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, among other cities, with marchers carrying 'Zuma Must Fall' placards and singing anti-Zuma songs.
COSATU wants Zuma to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate state corruption.
In a statement released by COSATU, the union confederation said "corruption has become endemic under this administration".
"This calls for all of us as workers and citizens to stand up and push back against this rot." Solly Mapaila, SACP deputy general secretary, on Tuesday called for all workers to join the strike.
He also called on MECs and members of parliament to excuse themselves from work and support the strike.
"We have been given that instruction from the SACP headquarters to all our members, even those in provinces," he said.
Senior members of the ANC have urged Zuma to step down following a series of accusation that the Gupta family have "captured the state".
In August, Zuma narrowly survived a no-confidence vote held by secret ballot in parliament. Members of the 400-seat parliament voted, 198 to 177 with nine abstentions.
Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst based in Johannesburg, told Al Jazeera that the protest on Wednesday was as much about succession debate as it was about corruption and discontent with the economy. "People are tired of the internal processes [of the ANC] and they want leaders to get on with their jobs.
"This mass action is a show of force and this is what democracy is about," Fakir said.
Even if Zuma goes, South Africa will remain divided But Fakir also said that though COSATU had a right to protest, it was important to remember that it was the trade union federation that played a role in bringing Zuma into power in the first place. COSATU is now backing vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa for the top job in the ANC, which will be decided at the party conference in December.
Earlier in September, COSATU said they would be marching following revelations that private interests had captured the South African state. “There is a network of the predatory elite that is engaged in looting of state resources and corrupt activities,” it said at the time.