Zuma may fire disobedient ministers to tighten grip on power

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma is considering firing ministers who backed calls for him to step down last year and defied his instructions, according to senior leaders of the ruling African National Congress.

Zuma told the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) this week that he’s considering the action and said the government needs to improve its performance, according to two leaders who attended the gathering in Johannesburg and declined to be identified because they’re not authorised to comment.

Presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga didn’t immediately respond to calls for comment.

The meeting was called to discuss ways to boost the economy, improve access to land and contain rising public impatience with a government that is not meeting its targets to fight poverty and reduce a 27% unemployment rate.

The ANC suffered its worst-ever electoral performance in an August municipal vote, when it lost control of Pretoria, the capital, and the economic hub of Johannesburg to opposition party coalitions.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom could be one of the ministers to be fired after he proposed a motion of no confidence in Zuma to the NEC’s more than 80 voting members at a meeting on November 26, according to the officials. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi backed Hanekom’s call, according to party leaders who were present.

The rand slid more than 1.4% against the dollar, reaching as low as R13.5467/$ by 14:55 in Johannesburg.

Gordhan target

The main target of a cabinet reshuffle would be Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, with whom Zuma has feuded over the management of state-owned companies and the affordability of building nuclear power plants, according to Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, a Johannesburg-based research group.

Gordhan didn’t join ministers calling for Zuma to step down.

“The relationship between Zuma and his finance minister is untenable,” Mathekga said by phone on Friday.

“You cannot have a treasury minister that does not toe the same line as the head of cabinet.”

Other firings would be “simply a way to make the impending reshuffle look comprehensive,” he said.

Still, a dismissal of Gordhan could replicate the market reaction in December 2015 when Zuma fired respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him with a little known lawmaker before appointing Gordhan four days later after pressure from party officials and businessmen. The rand fell 8.2% against the dollar over three days and government bond prices plunged.

Leadership change

Zuma, 74, is scheduled to step down as the ANC’s leader in December and his second term as president ends in 2019.

He may be considering appointing his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to his cabinet when she is due to end her term as chairperson of the African Union Commission next week, easing her path to succeed him as national leader, government officials have said.

The move would bolster Dlamini-Zuma’s profile and chances of replacing Zuma as leader of the ANC at a conference in December, according to party officials. Zuma told state-owned Motsweding FM radio on January 12 the ANC is ready for a female leader and the job won’t automatically go to his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, the other front-runner for the top post.

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