By James Macharia
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Members of South Africa's ANC chanted slogans outside its headquarters on Monday demanding President Jacob Zuma step down in a rare public show of anger in the ruling party after its worst election performance since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The demonstrators argue that Zuma, whose rule has been tainted by scandal, is responsible for the African National Congress (ANC) losing control of three major urban centers in local elections last month by mismanagement of the economy that is now teetering on the edge of recession.
Though the protesters numbered fewer than 100, the demonstration kept political tension high in Africa's most industrialized country, where markets have been rocked by a police investigation into Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Political analysts say Gordhan is the target of an ANC faction allied to Zuma. The president's office has denied claims Zuma was warring with Gordhan.
Camouflage-clad veterans of the ANC's now-disbanded Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) military wing, its Youth League and police with armored vehicles ringed the party's Luthuli House building in downtown Johannesburg, causing a stand-off with the protesters.
Some of the protesters carried placards, with one emblazoned: "Resign with immediate effect: ANC NEC and Jacob Zuma", referring to the party's National Executive Committee of Zuma and five other party leaders.
A placard by rival Zuma supporters read: "Don't try this at Luthuli House".
Critics of Zuma say he is also badly compromised by his relationship with the Guptas, a family of wealthy Indian businessmen with interests ranging from media and meining, who the opposition says exerts undue political influence over the president.
Outnumbered on the streets, the protesters gave a list of their grievances to Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe.
"There was a big hullabaloo in the media that there was going to be a big movement to occupy Luthuli House. There is not such a movement. It's a grouping - small," Mantashe said.
Although the ANC won the most votes overall in the Aug. 3 local polls, its reputation was badly bruised by its loss of support mainly in major cities.
Analysts said more internal squabbles were likely following the election losses, but would only bring change if they were led by senior party figures.
"An effective way would be to have big heavyweights in the ANC who say that we want the leadership to step down and we are organizing a march," said Prince Mashele, head of the Centre for Politics and Research, a Pretoria-based think-tank.
(Editing by Ed Cropley and Richard Balmnforth)