On Dec. 10, Zuma shocked the country and even his own cabinet by firing Nhlanhla Nene, a respected finance minister who had pushed back against gross overspending, appointing an unknown backbencher in his place. Days later, and clearly under pressure, Zuma reversed course and announced that Pravin Gordhan, who had previously served as finance minister in 2009-2014, would be returning to the post. But the damage was already done: The episode had sunk the rand, South Africa’s currency, to record lows, shaking investors’ faith in the economy — and the ANC’s faith in Zuma.
Potentially more significant than the protests is the growing dissent Zuma’s missteps have engendered within the party. A number of ANC veterans, including former Health Minister Barbara Hogan, have broken ranks to publicly criticize Zuma in recent weeks. Some of these party loyalists had been willing to look the other way on previous excesses, like the house in Nkandla, but the feeling, as Hogan put it, was that Zuma had “crossed a line” by firing Nene.
Nene had opposed excessive government spending, including on a $66 billion nuclear deal with Russia reportedly brokered by Zuma. He had also sought to rein in the ailing parastatal South African Airways, whose board of directors is chaired by Zuma’s close friend Dudu Myeni.
Members of his own party increasingly view him as reckless, the kind of leader who would play musical chairs with a crucial government position without regard for the consequences. And South Africa can ill afford economic turmoil: GDP is expected to expand just 1.4 percent in 2015 and official unemployment stands at around 25 percent.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment