Johannesburg - South African President Jacob Zuma faces a rebellion within his own party if he fires Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, with about 12 ministers considering resigning their positions and then fighting for the president’s removal, according to four people familiar with the situation.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and some deputy ministers may also resign, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. The officials would keep their seats in parliament and possibly support or abstain from a vote of no confidence in the president if it’s called by the opposition or by members of the ruling African National Congress, they said. The rand strengthened.
Zuma told the ANC’s top six members and officials of the South African Communist Party, which is allied to the ruling party, that he planned to fire Gordhan because he was blocking his policies. He ordered the finance minister to cancel meetings with investors this week in London and the US and return home, causing the rand to plummet.
The president is still considering his next move. By firing Gordhan, Zuma risks a market meltdown. If he doesn’t, he may appear weak as he seeks to secure his choice as successor as party leader in December.
“Zuma is caught between the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place,” Daniel Silke, director of Political Futures Consultancy in Cape Town, said by email. “Should he reconstitute his cabinet in his own image, he risks unleashing an unintended set of political consequences that could either fracture his own party or be the making of a rapid downfall.”
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The rand gained against the dollar, strengthening as much as 1 percent and was at 12.9241 by 9:33 a.m. on Thursday in Johannesburg. The yield on the benchmark 10-year rand bond fell for the first time in six days.
Zuma was pressured to appoint Gordhan in 2015 after a decision to name a little-known lawmaker to the position caused the rand and bonds to plunge. Since then, he’s feuded with his minister over a planned nuclear power expansion and the management of state companies and the national tax agency.
Ronnie Mamoepa, Ramaphosa’s spokesman, didn’t answer calls seeking comment.
“Once he kicks out Pravin Gordhan, there can be sympathy resignations and he doesn’t know how to predict that,” Dirk Kotze, a politics professor at the University of South Africa in the capital, Pretoria, said Wednesday by phone. “Will it be Ramaphosa plus six, seven, eight, nine other ministers?”