South Africa’s ANC backs Zuma in reshuffle dispute

South African President Jacob Zuma. / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI

South Africa’s ruling ANC party Wednesday expressed support for President Jacob Zuma after senior members openly criticised his cabinet reshuffle, citing fears of worsening corruption and economic crisis.

The African National Congress acknowledged the growing calls for Zuma to resign, admitting to “serious and difficult disagreement” over his sacking of respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan last week.

Gordhan’s removal triggered unprecedented criticism from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as well as the party’s chief whip, its treasurer and several ANC allies.

South Africa’s powerful trade union federation Cosatu on Tuesday joined many anti-apartheid veterans, business leaders and civil action groups calling for Zuma to step down.After a two-day meeting, the party said that it had “reflected” on the demands for Zuma to resign.

“The (party) has emphasised the need for unity of the ANC and the alliance in the interests of South Africa,” ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg.

“Different viewpoints should always be engaged, regardless of where they emerge.”

Mantashe blamed Gordhan’s sacking on “the irretrievable breakdown” in relations with the president.

Gordhan was at loggerheads with Zuma for months, receiving support from several ministers and major foreign investors, as well as many ordinary South Africans.

– Credit downgrade –
Gordhan had campaigned for budget discipline and against corruption, but Zuma’s allies have accused Gordhan of thwarting the president’s desire to enact radical policies to tackle racial inequality.

Gordhan’s sacking contributed to a credit ratings downgrade to junk status on Monday by Standard & Poor’s, fuelling calls for Zuma to step down.

The president has defended his change at the Treasury, saying Tuesday that “while the political leadership has changed, government’s overall policy orientation remains the same”.

S&P said the cut to below investment grade reflected “heightened political and institutional uncertainties” following the purge of Gordhan and other critical ministers.

With the cabinet overhaul exposing deep divisions within the ANC, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party hopes to benefit at general elections in 2019.

The president could in theory be ousted by the ANC recalling him, or after losing a vote of no confidence in parliament.

“We won’t recall President Jacob Zuma because opposition parties say so. It won’t work that way,” said Mantashe.

Peter Attard Montalto, analyst at Nomura bank, said in a briefing note that Zuma was “a master tactician who can play the internal machinations of the ANC much better than anyone else.”

Zuma is due to step down as head of the ANC in December, ahead of the 2019 general election.

He is seen as favouring his ex-wife, former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to succeed him — rather than Ramaphosa.

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