The sacking of South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, by President Jacob Zuma has thrown the ruling African National Congress, ANC, into chaos Friday, creating one of the party’s biggest tests since leading the fight against apartheid.
The move was widely seen as an attempt by President Zuma to control the selection of his successor.
The ANC, which came to power under Nelson Mandela in 1994, was rocked by the clear-out of senior figures including Gordhan as the President also made 10 new cabinet appointments.
The country’s Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, launched an unprecedented verbal attack on President Zuma, saying that he was not in support of the cabinet reshuffle.
“I told him that I would not agree with him,” Ramaphosa told reporters.
“There are quite a number of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about this situation, particularly the removal of the minister of finance who was serving the country with absolute distinction.
“For him to be removed for this type of reasoning is to me unacceptable.”
Similarly, the Secretary General of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, said that the party was unhappy with the late-night reshuffle.
“The process made me a little bit jittery and uncomfortable,” Mantashe said on Friday.
“We were given a list that was complete, and in my own view as a secretary I felt like this list has been developed somewhere else and was given to us to legitimise it.”
The late-night move caused a sharp drop in the value of the Rand as investors reacted to concerns that Zuma, whose term in office has been tainted by corruption scandals, would now have a free hand over government finances.
The sacked minister in a press conference on Friday said that he and the other cabinet members that were removed have refused to be bought.
“We hope more and more South Africans would make it clear that our country is not for sale,” he added.
But President Zuma said in a statement that the changes were “to bring about radical socio-economic transformation and to ensure that the promise of a better life for the poor and the working class becomes a reality.”
Gordhan has been supported by several senior ministers and many international investors, as well as being widely admired by ordinary South Africans and veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle.
He has campaigned for controlled spending and against corruption, but Zuma’s allies have accused him of thwarting the President’s desire to enact “radical economic transformation” tackling racial inequality.
Zuma is due to step down as head of the party in December, before the 2019 general election but he is seen as favouring his ex-wife, former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to succeed him, ahead of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Chief Whip of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, John Steenhuisen, described the reshuffle as a “midnight massacre”.
He described the development as “bad news for our country, bad news for the economy but mostly bad news for the nine million unemployed South Africans.”