South Africa: Zuma fires Finance Minister in Cabinet reshuffle

South African President Jacob Zuma. PHOTO/Getty Images

Zuma faces backlash

South African President Jacob Zuma faced a widening public backlash from senior members of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party – including his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa – the morning after he dismissed his Finance Minister amidst a Cabinet reshuffle.

“I have made my views known and there are quite a number of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about the situation, particularly the removal of the Minister of Finance,” Ramaphosa said Friday in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corp.
He called Zuma’s reasons for removing Gordhan “unacceptable.”

According to ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, Zuma did not consult the party’s top 6 leaders about most of the cabinet changes, saying a list of nominees “was thrown at us.” The party’s chief whip in parliament, Jackson Mthembu, said he opposed the removal of Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. “Their crime is incorruptibility. We stand with them,” he said in a post on Twitter.

Zuma’s decision to fire Pravin Gordhan, with whom he feuded over control of state finances, brought to the open South Africa’s biggest political crisis in almost a decade. While a group of party veterans accused Zuma of undermining the 105-year-old ANC, opposition parties are pushing for his ouster in parliament and several public protests were held. South African bank stocks tumbled and bonds plunged as the rand headed for its biggest weekly slide since 2015.

The leader of South Africa’s ultra-left opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said on Friday the party wanted a no confidence vote in parliament against Zuma after he roiled markets due to the dismissal of the Finance Minister.

“Zuma’s actions are compelling some people within the ANC who have been standing on the sidelines to take action,” said Ongama Mtimka, a political science lecturer at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in the city of Port Elizabeth. “If it was unthinkable about 5 or 6 months ago that there may be a parliamentary revolt; I think the time will be ripe for that.”

The South African rand tumbled, weakening as much as 2.6 percent against the dollar and was at 13.3375 by 2:03 p.m. in Johannesburg on Friday. It has plunged 6.8 percent this week, the most of more than 140 currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Yields on benchmark rand-denominated government bonds due December 2026 climbed 31 basis points on Friday to 8.81 percent.

Zuma’s Exit

The cabinet changes come just 9 months before Zuma is due to step down as ANC leader. His second and final term as the nation’s president is due to end in 2019. It is likely that the Cabinet reshuffle may accelerate his own political demise.