JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's president has replaced the finance minister for a second time in the past week. The move sparked a freefall in South Africa’s markets and stirred up political controversy.
South Africa’s new finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, who served in the post from 2009 to 2014, joked that he expected to stay 10 minutes in his second round at the job, after his sudden appointment late Sunday.
Gordhan takes over from little-known MP David van Rooyen, who was abruptly appointed last week, one day after President Jacob Zuma fired Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. The sudden shakeup hit South Africa’s economy as the ailing currency fell further and stock prices plummeted.
Van Rooyen, an obscure African National Congress parliament member with no national experience, did not do much to help the situation when he briefly spoke to media Thursday after his swearing-in, during which he appeared visibly unenthusiastic.
“I will endeavor to ensure that every policy is directed at creating favorable investment conditions leading to the development of South Africa for all South Africans, not for the few,” said Rooyen.
Monday, Gordhan promised he would set the nation back on a course of “sound fiscal management”, something it badly needed amid falling commodity prices, sky-high unemployment and increasing political turmoil.
Zuma has not said publicly why he replaced the two ministers.
Nene had been well-regarded, and made a name for himself for his opposition to some of the president’s proposals, like a plan to buy the president a new private jet.
His axing set off a firestorm of controversy and exposed fault lines in the notoriously closed ranks of the ANC, with the former health minister calling for Zuma to resign and more junior party members openly expressing criticism.
The nation’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, accused Zuma of playing “Russian Roulette” with the nation’s economy. The spokesman of the nation’s far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party called for Zuma’s resignation, adding, “If anyone still does not think we are in a banana republic, they cannot be helped.”
Gordhan noted news of his appointment Sunday has sent the currency and the markets in an upward direction, while public reaction to his re-appointment has been largely positive.
But this episode has dinged President Zuma, and his party, ahead of local elections next year.