South Africa’s ruling African National Congress backed President Jacob Zuma after two key allies of the party called for his resignation following a cabinet reshuffle that cost the country one of its investment-grade credit ratings.
The rand fell more than 1 percent and bonds weakened after ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told a media briefing on Wednesday that the ANC would not be part of a movement to remove Zuma, whose time at the helm of the party ends in December. Zuma’s presidential term will finish in 2019.
Last Thursday’s dismissal of finance minister Pravin Gordhan, a totem of policymaking stability for many foreign investors, was criticized by unions, civil society groups and the opposition, and has revived pressure on Zuma to quit.
Since taking office in 2009, the 74-year-old president has repeatedly denied accusations of corruption, and senior ANC officials have backed him.
Mantashe said the ANC had accepted the “irretrievable breakdown of the relationship” between Zuma and Gordhan as the reason the finance minister was sacked.
That move deepened a rift within the ruling party, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a leading candidate to replace Zuma as ANC president, on Friday describing Gordhan’s removal as “totally, totally unacceptable”.
The South African Communist Party and the country’s biggest trade union, Cosatu, both historic allies of the ANC, have each called on Zuma to step down following the sacking.
Mantashe had also openly criticized Zuma’s actions but on Wednesday, he painted a different picture, saying the ANC would “close ranks” around the president.
The events that unfolded after the reshuffle had “created anxiety and undue confusion as a result of the discordant views, in particular of the National Officials of the ANC,” Mantashe said, referring to the criticism directed at Zuma.
“The officials … have further acknowledged that their public dissonance on the matter was a mistake that should not be committed again.”
Rating agency S&P Global Ratings cited Gordhan’s dismissal as one reason for its downgrade of South Africa to “junk” in an unscheduled review on Monday.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Catherine Evans)