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JOHANNESBURG (Capital Markets in Africa) – South African President Jacob Zuma survived calls to resign by winning the support of the ruling party following his decision to fire the finance minister and stack the cabinet with loyalists. The rand weakened.
The African National Congress won’t vote against Zuma in a no-confidence motion in parliament that the main opposition parties have requested, Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told a briefing Wednesday in Johannesburg after a meeting of the ANC’s National Working Committee.
“There is no ANC member that will vote for an opposition motion,” he said. “No army will allow its foot soldiers to be commanded by an enemy army general.”
At the Tuesday meeting, Zuma rejected accusations that he hadn’t consulted adequately before a cabinet reshuffle that included the removal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Mantashe said the relationship between Zuma and Gordhan, who had feuded over the affordability of building nuclear power plants and the management of state-owned companies, had reached the point of “irretrievable breakdown.”
The decision heightens chances that Zuma will survive the no-confidence motion on April 18 in the National Assembly, where the ANC has a 62 percent majority. It came in the face of widespread criticism of Zuma’s cabinet changes that prompted S&P Global Ratings to downgrade the nation’s credit rating to junk and weakened the rand.
The rand weakened 0.8 percent to 13.7372 per dollar as of 5:20 p.m. in Johannesburg, after sliding as much as 1.8 percent following the report. That extended losses since March 27 to 10 percent. Yields on the government’s benchmark rand bond due December 2026 rose nine basis points to 9 percent.
“Zuma would not carry out a controversial cabinet reshuffle such as this one without lining up his support within the party to push back against the backlash,” Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, a Johannesburg-based research group, said by phone on Wednesday. “Even if you have those members speaking openly against him, the balance is such that he’s still quite firm within the party.”
Before the meeting, the president drew rare public criticism from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and other senior party members, including Mantashe and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, who publicly questioned the manner in which the cabinet changes were handled. Ramaphosa had called Zuma’s reasons for firing Gordhan “unacceptable.”
The public criticisms were a “mistake” and won’t happen again, the ANC said in a statement.
Mantashe said the party was concerned about the calls for Zuma to resign from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the nation’s biggest labor federation, and the South African Communist party, both allies of the ANC, and was planning to hold talks with them.
While Zuma has survived a series of corruption scandals and presided over the party’s worst-electoral performance since the end of apartheid in 1994 in municipal elections in August, the majority of ANC officials have stuck by him.
With Zuma scheduled to step down as party leader in December and as the nation’s president in 2019, many ANC officials may believe it’s not the time to remove him, said Daryl Glaser, a political science professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“The ANC is not going to go into the next election under Zuma, and I guess there will be some in the ANC who think that if they can just sit it out until the elective conference or until the next election in 2019, then the ANC can hold on electorally under new leadership,” he said.