South Africa’s Zuma ‘Planning to Remove Finance Minister:’ Coalition Partner

Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas
South Africa's Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan walks with his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas (rear), to a court hearing, Pretoria, South Africa, March 28. Gordhan was popular among businesses and investors for stabilizing the South African economy. Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

South African President Jacob Zuma is planning to fire his finance minister and deputy finance minister in a controversial cabinet reshuffle, according to one of the government’s coalition partners.

The South African Communist Party (SACP), which is a partner to the governing African National Congress (ANC), said that Zuma had informed the party that he intended to remove Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, at discussions between the two parties Monday.

The SACP said that it told Zuma it opposed the planned reshuffle, and senior ANC members have also reportedly advised the president not to remove the ministers.

Zuma appointed Gordhan in December 2015 after dismissing two finance ministers in the space of one week. But Gordhan has proved a tough opponent of the president on several matters, particularly of the Guptas’ alleged political influence.

A wealthy business family with close links to Zuma, the Guptas have allegedly offered out cabinet positions despite holding no political offices. Jonas, the deputy finance minister, alleged in March 2016 that the family offered him the post of finance minister before previous incumbent, Nhlanhla Nene, was sacked in December 2015.

The South African president ordered Gordhan to return from an international investor roadshow in London on Monday without giving an explanation. Speculation that Gordhan was going to be fired caused the rand to fall by 4 percent against the U.S. dollar Monday, though it has since partially recovered. The Banking Association of South Africa warned that the action could lead to a credit rating downgrade for the country, Africa’s biggest economy.

In its statement, the SACP said that it rejected the “emerging paradigm of presidential prerogative,” whereby Zuma could hire and fire ministers without consulting ANC partners.

As president, Zuma technically holds the power to make ministerial appointments and dismissals. The president reportedly told senior ANC officials that he wanted to remove Gordhan and Jonas, replacing the former with Brian Molefe, the former head of state electricity firm ESKOM. Three of the ANC’s six most senior officials, including Zuma’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, rejected the plan, according to South African news site Times Live.

The president reportedly cited a damning intelligence report on Gordhan, but it is not clear what the contents of the report were. In its statement, the SACP said that it was aware of a “rogue intelligence unit” that produces “false reports” to “smear comrades,” and said it had laid a complaint with the head of police and intelligence minister, who had “thus far treated our complaint flippantly.”

In 2016, the ANC recorded its worst election result since the end of apartheid, a system of white-minority government and racial oppression of black South Africans, in 1994. The party lost control of key urban areas, including the commercial hub of Johannesburg, and saw its share of the national vote fall. Zuma has come under pressure from some factions within the party to resign after a string of scandals, including the use of state funds to build a swimming pool and other additions at his home in Nkandla.