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Zuma sacks finance minister in major reshuffle

The sacking of Pravin Gordhan comes as calls for Zuma to step down grow amid economic turmoil and corruption allegations.

Pravin Gordhan

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma sacked finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a major cabinet reshuffle after days of speculation that has rocked the country's markets and currency, replacing him with home affairs head Malusi Gigaba.

A statement from the president's office early on Friday said Zuma had also appointed Sfiso Buthelezi as Deputy Finance Minister, replacing Mcebisi Jonas. Zuma also made changes to ten of the country's 35 ministries, including energy, police, and tourism. He brought in new faces and moved some ministers to new portfolios.

Pressure has been growing on Zuma to step down after he recalled Gordhan, who has a strong reputation as a bulwark against corruption, from a trade trip in London earlier this week. The recall caused South Africa's rand to lose nearly 5 percent.

Many South Africans had viewed Gordhan as a responsible steward of an economy facing possible credit rating downgrades. Frustration has been growing with Zuma after numerous allegations of corruption.

South Africa's two main opposition parties took aim at the president on Thursday, with one appealing to the highest court to order impeachment proceedings and the other announcing it will launch a vote of no confidence in Zuma.

"Zuma has bowed to the whims of those who determined to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and jobless," the country's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, tweeted after the announcement. The party on Thursday said it would launch a vote of no confidence in Zuma in parliament.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party applied to the country's highest court on Thursday to order parliament to begin impeachment proceedings against the president for lying to the legislative body.

The EFF called it "a last resort," with party leader Julius Malema accusing parliament, which is dominated by the African National Congress (ANC), of failing in its duty to hold the president accountable.

On Wednesday, Gordhan inspired a standing ovation at the funeral of Ahmed Kathrada, one of South Africa's leading anti-apartheid activists, as longtime leaders of the ruling ANC called for Zuma to step down. The outcry by funeral-goers including the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, further exposed the ruling party's divide.

The cabinet changes are "to improve efficiency and effectiveness," the statement from Zuma's office said.

But even allies of the ruling party had warned against replacing Gordhan. Deputy general-secretary Solly Mapaila of the South African Communist Party, which is in an alliance with the ANC, warned on Thursday that the party's seven cabinet members would resign if Zuma fired the finance minister.

The cabinet shuffle comes as the calls for Zuma to step down grow.

The scandal-ridden Zuma in November survived an attempt by senior party members to oust him as president. Earlier last year, South Africa's highest court found that Zuma had violated his oath of office by refusing to abide by an order to pay back some of the millions of dollars in public money spent on upgrading his rural home.

Gordhan became South Africa's finance minister after Zuma's abrupt decision in December 2015 to fire Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and replace him with David van Rooyen, a relatively unknown figure, which unsettled markets and prompted a national outcry.

Late last year, prosecutors dropped fraud charges against Gordhan that were criticised by many South Africans as politically motivated and deepened concern about alleged government mismanagement.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was among high-ranking officials in the ruling party who expressed their support for the sacked finance minister. Ramaphosa is seen as a likely candidate to succeed Zuma as ANC leader at the ruling party's conference in December.


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