South Africa: Zuma, ruling party headed for confrontation after finance minister dismissed

Embattled South Africa President Jacob Zuma. PHOTO/AFP/Stephanie De Sakutin

South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma faces a confrontation with senior members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the country’s currency – the rand – has plunged after the country’s finance minister was sacked, a move that threatens to split the ruling party.

The rand fell about 2 percent to the dollar and government bonds weakened on Monday following Zuma’s dismissal on Friday of the internationally respected Pravin Gordhan.

The dismissal drew public criticism from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize before Monday’s regular meetings of the party leadership.

Analysts suggest those meetings could set up a showdown between Zuma and some of the party’s leaders. If so, Zuma still has the support of Chairwoman Baleka Mbete and Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte, marking a split down the middle among the party’s “Top 6” leaders, sources said.

An important signal will be whether the party calls for an early meeting of its National Executive Committee (NEC). The committee is the only body that can remove the leader of the party, other than its party congress, which occurs only every 5 years.

No confidence vote

Meanwhile, the speaker of parliament, said on Sunday she would consider a request from opposition parties to hold a “no confidence” vote on the president.

Previous no-confidence motions against Zuma have failed as the ANC has a commanding majority, but there is a growing backlash against him from within his own party and its allies after a string of missteps which have culminated with his firing of a respected finance minister that rocked markets.

Speaker Baleka Mbete, who is also the national chairperson of the ANC, said in a televised news conference, that she wanted to ensure the opposition requests were “given the appropriate consideration.”
“I must stress that I am alive to the extreme challenges and sense of anxiety our young democracy is going through at this moment,” Mbete said.

Analysts say the removal of Gordhan last week may trigger damaging credit downgrades from ratings agencies, which would drive up the government’s borrowing costs and restrict its ability to carry out the populist redistribution policies Zuma has indicated he wants to pursue.

Zuma’s authority has been steadily undermined as his administration has staggered through a series of blunders and scandals, including the use of state funds to make lavish improvements to his rural homestead and a debacle that threatened the payment of social grants to millions who depend on them.

Source: Rueters, Agencies