On 31 March 2017, President Jacob Zuma made massive changes to his cabinet. These included firing almost a third of the ministers and ten deputy ministers.
Among the most high-profile changes are the firing of Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, replaced by his deputy Thoko Xasa, and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, replaced by Malusi Gigaba. Many of those who were fired had previously been critical of President Zuma.
Hanekom had asked Zuma to step down at the ANC national executive committee in 2016. Gordhan’s axing came in the midst of a legal showdown with the Gupta family. Gordhan had filed a court action that Zuma should not interfere in transactions between banks and their clients.
“Gordhan actively refused to adjust the budget according to Zuma’s needs. We can speculate that he has replaced him with someone who will,” said Shannon Arnold, a tutor in the UCKAR Department of Political and International Studies.
The reshuffle has already impacted the economy. On 3 April, ratings agency S&P Global downgraded the South African economy to junk status. They gave reasons such as the country’s debt, high unemployment and the political instability brought on by the reshuffle.
In the wake of the reshuffle, there have been widespread calls for President Zuma to step down. Former COSATU secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi called for protests at the National Treasury, while DA leader Mmusi Maimane voiced similar concerns. “We have all had enough of Jacob Zuma and the corrupt ANC government he leads,” he told a crowd in Johannesburg. The EFF also rejected the cabinet reshuffle and called for disciplinary action to be taken against Zuma, with Julius Malema saying, “We’re going to vote for Zuma to leave”.
Various political parties including the IFP and the DA have called for a no-confidence motion against Zuma to be put before the National Assembly. For such a motion to succeed in removing the president from power, over half the members of the assembly would have to vote in favour of it. However, economist Peter Attard Montalto believes that such a motion is unlikely to succeed.
Resistance to the cabinet reshuffle has not been limited to political parties. On Friday 7 April, thousands of South African citizens took to the streets in various anti-Zuma protests, including a vigil in Grahamstown.
There has been great speculation over President Zuma’s reasons for the changes. According to Zuma, the reshuffle was done to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Others argue that the changes were meant to strengthen Zuma’s position within the ANC by surrounding the president with ministers loyal to him.
According to Frans Conje of the South African Institute of Race Relations, “A coup has taken place within the ANC that gives Mr Zuma far greater control of the party than he had a week ago.”
While the real reasons for the reshuffle are pure speculation, its effects on the economy and the political climate are clear. It remains to be seen what action will be taken against President Zuma, and what this will mean for the ANC and South Africa.
Words by Luc Haasbroek