Zuma Sacks New Finance Minister
South African president Jacob Zuma sacked his new Finance Minister after less than a week on the job on Sunday, in a desperate effort to quell growing economic and political turmoil surrounding the hiring.
Little-known parliamentarian back-bencher David van Rooyen was picked by Zuma last Wednesday to replace Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who was unceremoniously fired after he got into a public row with Dudu Myeni, chairwoman of state-owned South African Airways, for bungling a 1 billion rand ($62.98 million) deal with Airbus.
The fiscal-conservate Nene spent most of his two years as Finance Minister trying to reign in government spending. He also opposed to a US$100 billion plan to build a slew of nuclear power plants. Most analysts have blasted the project as “unaffordable.”
Nene’s sacking and replacement caused the South African Rand to collapse to its lowest levels against the dollar and prompt a runoff on banking stocks.
Nene’s removal came less than a week after South African debt was moved closer to “junk” status by rating companies, which highlighted growth predicted at a sluggish 1.4 percent this year, along with rising interest and inflation rates. The government is also scrambling to deal with mining giant Anglo-American’s sudden announcement last week that it would cut two-thirds of its workforce, which many are in South Africa.
Zuma was then forced to spend this weekend denying charges that he and Myeni were in a romantic affair and have a love child. Rumors of an affair between the two go back to 2009, when the she was appointed to the board of the ailing national flag carrier. Myeni is also executive chairwoman of Zuma’s charitable trust, the Jacob Zuma Foundation.
A political coup began brewing shortly after Nene’s sacking. Former South African health minister and leading anti-apartheid activist Barbara Hogan was the first on Friday to call for Zuma’s resignation.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, then said Zuma was “playing Russian Roulette with the South African economy.” Julius Malema, leader of the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, said the president had turned the country into a “banana republic” and called on him to quit.
An online petition and Twitter campaign calling for Zuma’s resignation followed; several rallies calling for the president to step down are also in the works for the upcoming weeks.
Zuma responded to the growing chorus of discontent late Sunday by sacking van Rooyen and replacing him with Pravin Gordhan, who was widely respected when he was Finance Minister for five years until 2014.
Van Rooyen will now take over Gordhan’s post as Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.