Financial markets and opposition parties are now united in the common sense, and they’re demanding the head of Jacob Zuma after determining the South African president completely unreliable.
This is the epilogue of Zuma’s surprise move to torpedo two finance ministers in a single week without providing clear reasons. Amid an unfurling crisis in Africa’s second-largest economy, Zuma fired Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene after 18 months on the job and handed the reigns to lesser-known David Van Rooyen. Four days later, he fired Van Rooyen and reappointed Pravin Gordhan, who was Zuma’s finance minister from 2009 to 2014.
The shuffle brought the rand, South Africa’s currency, to a record low, draining 9 percent of its value against the euro and the dollar.
Thousands of South Africans responded yesterday (the anniversary of the Day of Reconciliation celebrating the end of apartheid) by taking to the streets of Port Elizabeth, George, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, waving placards with “Save South Africa” and “Recall Zuma now,” and tweeting #ZumaMustFall.
In response, Zuma begged protesters to go home during his speech commemorating the Day of Reconciliation at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. “We exaggerate our problems and make people think that South Africans are funny people, while in reality people envy to be South Africans.”
Meanwhile, Zuma’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), which led South Africa’s historic liberation movement, is rallying around its president. Spokesman Zizi Kodwa said there would be no changes to party leadership.
But the credit rating agency Moody’s sent a clear signal, downgrading South Africa from “stable” to “negative,” based on a strong likelihood that economic growth will remain low for an extended period of time.
Nene’s removal came at a dark time for the South African economy, squeezed between the decline in overall commodity prices and a strong expectation (realized yesterday) of a rise in interest rates in the United States.
What led Zuma to replace Nene with Van Rooyen, an ANC member of parliament, was never officially announced, but ever since his appointment, Nene had pushed for a ceiling on public spending and a limit on wage increases for civil servants. This ran counter to ANC’s long practice of offsetting low popularity with more public sector employment and welfare in order to stay in power.
According to local press, Nene criticized the president of South African Airways, Dudu Myeni, who is also the head of the Jacob Zuma Foundation, for mismanagement of a deal with Airbus worth billions of rand. Nene also opposed a $100 billion government plan to build a nuclear power plant to address an electricity shortage. Many analysts say the project is beyond the scope of the country’s finances.