Africa

Fallout from South Africa's ministerial 'massacre'

Cyria Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma and Pravin Gordhan with their thumbs up Image copyright South Africa Government
Image caption Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma and Pravin Gordhan pictured just last month on budget day

It was the night of the long knives when President Jacob Zuma sacked the finance minister against the wishes of his senior party leaders.

Some say he has chosen a path down to the abyss by removing the much respected Pravin Gordhan from the treasury.

There is huge outcry across the nation following the biggest cabinet reshuffle since the early 1990s.

Calls for President Zuma to step down are now being echoed throughout South Africa.

This reshuffle affected nine ministers and six deputies. But the finance minister's sacking has overshadowed everything.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Demonstrators came out in the capital, Pretoria, in response to the news of Pravin Gordhan's sacking

There is no doubt that Mr Gordhan was a hard working minister respected globally and came with impeccable anti-apartheid struggle credentials at that.

Mr Zuma used his presidential powers to steamroll a list of cabinet ministers not approved by either his deputy president or the secretary general of the governing African National Congress (ANC) as is the norm.

This move by President Zuma has not only surprised ordinary folks on the streets but it has also shocked those at the top table sitting alongside him.

"It felt like this list was developed somewhere else and it was given to us just to legitimise it... We are unhappy," lamented ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe

Loyalists

President Zuma was clearly rewarding loyalists and getting rid of opponents within the party. Mr Gordhan was sacked with no iota of evidence of malfeasance against him.

To demonstrate how high the stakes are for the 74-year-old president you have to look at what opposition member of parliament Julius Malema said before the sacking.

"Once Zuma announces the removal of Pravin…that will be the end of his journey as the president," warned the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader.

Mr Malema has lodged an application with the Constitutional Court to order the speaker of parliament to institute impeachment proceedings against Mr Zuma.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Gordhan gave a lively press conference the morning after he was sacked

If you want to know why president Zuma fired Pravin Gordhan, you have to trace the story back to December 2015.

This was when the president fired a highly regarded finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him a little known ANC back bencher Des Van Rooyen. Chaos ensued and markets reacted negatively to the sudden reshuffle.

The value of country's currency, the rand, tumbled to record levels, as it did on Friday morning.

Mr Zuma was then forced to make the biggest political U-turn since the end of apartheid. Mr Van Rooyen was removed four days after his appointment.

Mr Gordhan was then brought in to start his second stint as the man in charge of the country's finances.

So in essence, Mr Gordhan was never Mr Zuma's choice in the first place.

Since then he has been plotting to get rid of him. Finally, after much resistance, at the stroke of midnight he had the gall to execute his wishes in spectacular fashion.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Zuma wanted Mr Gordhan to be more spendthrift

The president appears to be frustrated by Mr Gordhan's apparent parsimony when it came to spending.

Bu whereas he wanted to keep a tight rein on the money, Mr Zuma wants to spend big.

The president supports a deal to build two nuclear reactors set to cost nearly $60bn (£48bn).

Money the country does not have, according to the outgoing finance minister.

He was also keen to slow down the flow of money to state-owned companies like the forever thirsty national carrier South African Airways, the on-and-off power utility Eskom and others such as Transnet, which is responsible for ports and railways.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to become president himself

But there are also corruption allegations.

Mr Gordhan's deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, who is also on his way out, said last year that he was offered cash from a member of the wealthy Gupta family with ties to the president on condition that he would channel government contracts to their businesses.

The Gupta family denied the charge.

This was the beginning of this drama which culminated in Thursday night's political bloodbath.

Not the end

But wait, there is more.

In dramatic fashion at the beginning of the week, the president ordered Mr Gordhan to return "immediately" from an investment roadshow in London.

However, reports have since emerged that Mr Zuma, based on questionable intelligence, believed that his finance minister was also going to meet with individuals who wanted to overthrow the state.

An allegation Mr Gordhan said "sickens him".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Gordhan remained defiant in the wake of his sacking

There are also big divisions within the governing alliance.

One of the ANC's key partners in the tripartite alliance the South African Communist Party rejected the idea of getting rid of Mr Gordhan outright as soon as the president informed them about his intention.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has also reacted with shock. He said the sacking was "unacceptable".

But has not offered to resign over the issue. Mr Ramaphosa wants to replace Mr Zuma as president of the ANC later this year. But the president prefers his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma instead.

We have a fight at hand.

This reshuffle could have triggered the hairline crack that eventually splits the 105-year-old liberation movement.

And that would bring to an end the ANC's grip on power here, after such great promise.

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