Johannesburg - 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 African National Congress (ANC), they said.
Some lawmakers have started informal talks with the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), they said. The rand strengthened.
Zuma told the ANC’s top six members and officials of the South African Communist Party (SACP), 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 nation’s currency 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 ANC 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.”
The rand gained as much as 1% against the dollar and was trading 0.8% stronger at 12.9407 at 11:58 in Johannesburg, paring losses since Monday to 4.1%. Bonds rose for the first time in six days, sending yields on the benchmark government-rand bond due December 2026 down 9 basis points to 8.65%.
The Communist Party opposed Zuma’s plan to replace Gordhan when the president informed its leaders of his intention, the SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila told reporters Thursday. It also dismissed an intelligence report that claimed Gordhan was seeking to undermine the country as a reason for ordering him to come home from London, and to be fired.
The report, which alleged that Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, had set up secret meetings to start what it called Operation Check Mate to sabotage Zuma, was compiled by “rogue intelligence” officials, he said.
Gordhan has run the Treasury with “absolute cleanliness” and should be allowed to get on with his job without being harassed. The party “won’t allow the country to be run by gangsters,” Mapaila said.
Zuma appointed 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.
Bongani Ngqulunga, the presidential spokesperson, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone. Ronnie Mamoepa, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, 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 Pretoria, said Wednesday by phone. “Will it be Ramaphosa plus six, seven, eight, nine other ministers?”