Zuma Weather’s the Storm

In the early hours on 31st March 2017, President Jacob Zuma initiated a controversial cabinet reshuffle, which included the removal of Pravin Gordhan and his deputy – Mcebisi Jonas – at the Ministry of Finance. There had been rumours about Gordhan’s removal since it was reported in May 2016 that the Hawks law enforcement unit was investigating him. It was speculated at the time that the Hawks were working under Zuma’s direction and that Gordhan had been targeted due to his position towards the influential Gupta business family. The Gupta family are seen as being too close to Zuma and have faced allegations of “state capture”. Gordhan has long been viewed as a critic of the Gupta family and, to many, his removal last week was due to this criticism. This assertion is supported by the fact that, his successor – Malusi Gigaba – has a close relationship with the Gupta family.

Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle has already had a significant effect on both politics and the economy in South Africa. Following the announcement of Gordhan’s removal, the value of the Rand fell by 13 percent and on 3rd April, the global ratings agency ‘Standard & Poor’s’ downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status. The agency cited Gordhan’s dismissal as one of the main reasons for this downgrade. Moreover, it seems that ‘Moody’s’ rating agency is going to follow suit, after putting the country on a negative outlook due to “the abrupt change in leadership of key government institutions”. Although Zuma has tried to reassure investors by stating that “policy orientation remains the same”, given South Africa’s widening budget deficit and high unemployment rate, the economic prospects for the country seem quite bleak.

On the political side, Zuma has faced criticism for the cabinet reshuffle, including from within his own party. Secretary General of the ANC – Gwede Mantashe – and Deputy President – Cyril Ramaphosa – both criticised President Zuma’s decision, with Ramaphosa calling the sacking of Gordhan “totally unacceptable”. It has also increased tensions in the Tripartite Alliance between the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Both the leadership of the SACP and COSATU were critical of President Zuma, and COSATU’s Secretary General – Bheki Ntshalintshali – described Zuma’s leadership as “inattentive, negligent and disruptive” and said that he is no longer the “right person” to be president. Although this appeared to be putting pressure on Zuma to stand down, on 5th April the ANC’s National Working Committee backed Zuma and said that the party would not vote against him in a vote of no confidence.

Outside of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance, Zuma has faced fierce criticism. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have both called on Zuma to resign and for another no confidence vote in parliament. Although such votes have previously been blocked by the ANC’s commanding majority, the opposition are confident that they will be able to convince certain members of the ANC to vote against their party. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that they will be successful as party loyalty remains very important within the ANC. Additionally, civil society groups and opposition parties have called for a nationwide protest against Zuma on 7th April. These protests are expected to draw large amounts of people and could cause significant social unrest as the DA have claimed that they have received “numerous threats of violence” from “the ANC Youth League” in response to the planned protest.

Nonetheless, although Zuma has been heavily criticised for his cabinet reshuffle, which has brought divisions in the ANC to the fore and heightened South Africa’s economic problems, it seems that, as before, he has weathered the storm. But, at what cost? His continued presence at the top of the ANC is likely to increase internal tensions and divisions, which will be brought to the surface at the ANC Elective Conference in December 2017, where the party will be tasked with selecting his successor. Whoever succeeds Zuma will struggle to re-unite the party and his refusal to stand down is likely to reduce support for the ANC ahead of elections in 2019. The political instability caused by this is likely to increase economic uncertainty, causing further problems for the South African economy. Thus, although Zuma has managed to hold on to power for a little longer, the effect this will have is likely to be felt for years to come.