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Gordhan says 'let's wait and see' on sacking

Economy

Johannesburg - Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan flew back into South Africa on Tuesday, obeying an abrupt recall from President Jacob Zuma, and said "let's wait and see" when asked about reports that he was about to be sacked.

The rand fell sharply after Zuma ordered Gordhan's immediate return from a trip to Britain on Monday, rattling investors who see the minister as a focus of stability in Africa's most developed economy. The currency trimmed its losses to trade 1.9 percent lower at 12.98 per dollar after Gordhan landed.

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Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

"The president is my boss so if he asks us to come back, we come back," Gordhan said.

"There are many in government who want to do the right thing and make sure we keep our economy on track and keep our development moving in the right direction," he added without elaborating.

Zuma's order cut short Gordhan's investor roadshow in Britain and the United States, triggering jitters that a long-running power struggle between the two men was coming to a head.

Talk Radio 702 said Gordhan's dismissal had been discussed at talks between Zuma and the South African Communist Party, allies of the ruling African National Congress, on Monday.

"There is a lot of rumours about the future of the finance minister, they are still unsubstantiated at this time, it's not set in stone," a Treasury One currency dealer, Andre Botha, said regarding the rand's volatility.

"I think the market is pulling back just on the fact that nothing was said about the rumours since then. I think people are sort of relaxing a bit."

Gupta case

Gordhan returned as a court hearing over the closure of accounts belonging to friends of the president, the Gupta brothers, started. The case has been a particular bone of contention between Zuma and his finance minister.

Zuma has come under mounting political pressure since South Africa's anti-graft watchdog called last year for a judge to investigate allegations of influence peddling in his government, in particular allegations that brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta wielded undue influence over the president.

Zuma has said the Guptas are his friends, but denies there is anything improper about the relationship and the brothers have denied any wrong-doing.

Gordhan has said the Guptas have repeatedly asked him to intervene to reverse a decision by major banks to close some of the business accounts of the brothers' Oakbay Investments.

In December, Gordhan asked the High Court to rule he was not allowed to interfere in the banks' decisions.

Read also: Zuma tells Communist Party Gordhan is out

The state attorney said Zuma had applied to be represented in the case as an interested party, but the court rejected his application.

Gordhan first served as finance minister from 2009 to 2014 and was reappointed by Zuma in December 2015 to calm markets spooked by the president's decision to replace respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with a little-known politician.

But South African media reports suggest Zuma and Gordhan have an uneasy relationship, though the president has denied suggestions he is "at war" with his finance minister.

Separately, Zuma said on Tuesday he was not considering setting up a commission of inquiry into the banking sector in written answers to parliament.

($1 = 12.7595 rand) (Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Olwethu Boso, TJ Strydom and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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