Zuma May Fire Disobedient Ministers to Tighten Grip on Power

  • Public growing impatient with government failures, Zuma says
  • Improving access to land, creating jobs dominate ANC agenda

South African 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. The rand slumped.

Zuma told the party’s National Executive Committee 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 authorized to comment. Presidential spokesman 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 percent 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.

Derek Hanekom

Source: Gallo Images/Getty Images

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 Nov. 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.

Rand Slumps

The rand slumped the most in six weeks, falling as much as 1.8 percent before paring the loss to trade 1 percent weaker at 13.4880 per dollar by 3:45 p.m. in Johannesburg. Yields on benchmark government bonds due December 2026 jumped 11 basis points to 8.88 percent, the highest since Jan. 4.

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.

‘Untenable’ Relationship

“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 Zuma could be dissuaded from dismissing Gordhan fearing a replication of 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 percent against the dollar over three days and government bond prices plunged.

See chart on complacent investors

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 chairwoman 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’s leader of the ANC at a conference in December, according to party officials. Zuma told state-owned Motsweding FM radio on Jan. 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.

— With assistance by Gordon Bell, and Robert Brand

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