Johannesburg (dpa) – Popular South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan has been sacked amid one of the most dramatic shake-ups of the embattled presidency of Jacob Zuma, a move that has raised concerns about the country’s stability.
Zuma also appointed 10 new ministers 10 new deputy ministers in the reshuffle. The aim was to “improve efficiency and effectiveness,” the government said in a statement Friday.
“The changes bring some younger MPs and women into the national executive in order to benefit from their energy, experience and expertise,” Zuma said in a television broadcast.
Gordhan was replaced by Malusi Gigaba, previously home affairs minister.
The move sparked concern about its impact on investments, as Gordhan had been regarded as an emblem of stability for Africa’s most industrialized economy.
South African trade union leader Zwelinzima Vavi called on South Africans to protest the cabinet reshuffle Friday morning in the capital, Pretoria, near the seat of government. Another major demonstration was planned in front of parliament in the city of Cape Town.
A slump in mineral prices, a drought, and investor distrust in the government have contributed to economic growth slowing to 0.3 per cent in 2016. Additionally, more than a quarter of the workforce is unemployed. The rand dropped by 5 per cent against the dollar on the news of Gordhan’s sacking.
Gordhan, who had previously been finance minister from 2009-14, was reappointed in 2015 amid fears the rand would collapse after Zuma fired a previous respected minister, Nhlanhla Nene, and replaced him with a relative unknown.
The cabinet reshuffle followed days of speculation that Gordhan might be sacked because of disagreements with Zuma on several issues, including Gordhan’s attempts to rein in spending; his criticism of South Africa’s planned nuclear power expansion; and his row with the Gupta business family.
Gordhan accused the family, which has allegedly used its ties to Zuma to secure government tenders and even to influence ministerial appointments, of pressuring him to intervene with banks on its behalf.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, spokesman of the opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), said the cabinet reshuffle placed South Africa’s treasury effectively “in the hands of the Guptas.”
Fraud charges, described by Gordhan as politically motivated, brought against the finance minister were dropped in October.
Media reports had said many in Zuma’s cabinet opposed his plans to sack Gordhan and had considered a mass walkout.
The reshuffle included the axing of tourism minister Derek Hanekom, a vocal critic of Zuma.
The sacking of Gordhan raised the question of whether Zuma, who came under furious criticism for the move on social media, would last until the end of his presidency in 2019.
The far-left party Economic Freedom Fighters on Thursday filed a court application to launch impeachment proceedings against Zuma, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) announced a no-confidence motion in parliament.
“[Zuma] has no interest in our beloved country’s future … He has bowed to the whims of those who are determined to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and jobless. This is an act of complete state capture,” the DA said.
“We cannot sit by and let this happen. It is time that all South Africans stand together to protect our democracy,” it added.
Once admired for his contribution to the struggle against apartheid, Zuma’s popularity has plunged due to a string of scandals.
The president defeated impeachment proceedings in April 2016 regarding the so-called Nkandla scandal, in which he was found to have illegally used taxpayers’ money to upgrade his country home in a village of that name.
The Constitutional Court ordered him to repay a sum that the Treasury set at 7.8 million rand (nearly 600,000 dollars).