FILE PHOTO: South Africa’s outgoing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (R) chats with Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas during a media briefing at their offices in Pretoria, South Africa, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
JOHANNESBURG Three cabinet ministers removed by President Jacob Zuma in a reshuffle last week have quit as lawmakers of his African National Congress party ahead of a vote of no-confidence in the president which the ANC has vowed to defeat.
Mcebisi Jonas, an outspoken critic of government corruption who was deputy finance minister until Zuma sacked him a week ago, resigned as a member of parliament on Thursday, the ANC said. Former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and ex-transport minister Dipuo Peters, both axed in the reshuffle, also quit, the party said.
The ANC has rejected calls from opponents and some long-time political allies for Zuma to resign after the cabinet changes — particularly the sacking of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister — cost the country one of its investment-grade credit ratings.
South Africa’s rand ZAR=D3 has tumbled more than 12 percent since March 27 when Zuma ordered Gordhan home from overseas meetings with investors.
Jonas made headlines last year when he said that he had been offered the finance minister’s job by members of the Gupta family, Indian businessmen who have close ties with Zuma and have been accused of influence-peddling. Zuma and the Gupta family have denied any wrongdoing.
“Jonas is the one to watch out of the three. Could he join an alternative movement seeking to shape a better future for South Africa?” political analyst Daniel Silke said.
In another blow, the Treasury said its Director General Lungisa Fuzile, who is well respected in financial markets and worked closely with Gordhan and Jonas, would leave after new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba takes the reins.
Gigaba has declared plans to redistribute wealth in the economy to poor black people as part of a programme of “radical socio-economic transformation” promised by Zuma.
Fears that budget discipline could falter under Gigaba have contributed to market jitters, but he has assured investors that he will maintain the policies established under Gordhan.
Zuma, whose decision to fire Gordhan outraged opponents and some allies, and was cited by Standard & Poor’s as a reason for its downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating to “junk”, said again on Thursday that fiscal policies would be retained.
Gordhan, a two-time finance minister, was regarded as a steady hand by the international investors on whom South Africa relies to finance its hefty budget and current account deficits. The rating cut is set to push up the country’s borrowing costs.
Although Thursday’s resignations are an embarrassment rather than a direct threat to Zuma, around whom the ANC has “closed ranks” in recent days, he still faces demands to step down from other political and civil society groups.
On Tuesday, the country’s biggest trade union Cosatu asked Zuma to quit. It then met Zuma at his request on Wednesday to discuss the cabinet reshuffle and said in a statement it would do so again in mid-April.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party has filed an urgent court application to have Zuma’s decision to remove Gordhan and Jonas set aside on the grounds that it was unlawful.
The party is also among many groups that plan to march on Friday to put pressure on Zuma to quit over the cabinet changes, saying his decision to reshuffle the cabinet is likely to hurt the economy and cost yet more jobs.
The DA will march in the commercial hub Johannesburg, while the South African Communist Party (SACP), a historic ally of the ANC which has also demanded that Zuma step down, will march in Pretoria alongside civil society groups. A “holding hands” picket is also planned in Cape Town.
Parliament will take a vote on April 18 on a no-confidence motion against Zuma.
Similar votes have failed in the past. The ANC has a commanding majority in the national assembly, and the party said on Thursday that its members would vote against the motion.
“The marches in themselves will not have an effect on the ANC, the only thing that will have an effect will be the internal ebb and flow of its factions,” said Silke.
(Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Mfuneko Toyana and TJ Styrdom in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Catherine Evans)