JOHANNESBURG, (Reuters) – South African President Jacob Zuma’s sacking of his respected finance minister in favour of a relative unknown has shocked investors and emboldened critics who say the 73-year-old is driving the economy to ruin.
Even some supporters of the African National Congress (ANC), Nelson Mandela’s erstwhile liberation movement that has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, expressed dismay about Wednesday’s appointment of a Zuma loyalist to the crucial post.
Zuma gave no details as to why he had dismissed Nhlanhla Nene, who has overseen the Treasury for just under two years, other than to say he had “done well… during a difficult economic climate”.
Markets reacted unambiguously, with the rand plunging five percent against the dollar to record lows late on Wednesday. After a modest recovery, the currency slipped about one percent on Thursday.
Local media speculated this week that Nene might be on the chopping block after he rebuked Dudu Myeni, the chairwoman of state-owned South African Airways and a close ally of Zuma, for mismanaging a 1 billion rand ($67 million) deal with Airbus.
Myeni is executive chairwoman of Zuma’s charitable trust, the Jacob Zuma Foundation.
The main opposition party went on the attack. “It is clear that if you stand up to Zuma, you don’t stick around,” Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, told Reuters. “Zuma has reached new heights as a leader who puts himself ahead of his country and the economy.”
Zuma’s office did not respond immediately to Reuters requests for comment. The ANC said in a statement it “notes and respects” the president’s decision.