JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s government has descended into open warfare as a clash between President Jacob Zuma and his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, unveils rivalries that could tip the country into instability.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party looks set for worsening strife as its divided leadership struggles with falling popular support, a weakening economy and violent student protests.
Gordhan, 67, a respected ANC veteran who was heading for a peaceful retirement until his appointment last year, has emerged as the unlikely figurehead of opposition to Zuma. He will next month appear in court on criminal charges that he says are a politically-motivated attempt to oust him after he stood up to Zuma and alleged corrupt associates linked to the presidency.
Gordhan’s cause has attracted some significant backers including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and several ministers.
“People in the ANC are beginning to understand the gravity of the crisis that the country is in,” Prince Mashele, a political analyst based at the University of Pretoria, told AFP.
Zuma in December reluctantly re-appointed Gordhan, who had served as finance minister from 2009 to 2014, to calm panicked markets after sacking two finance ministers within four days.
Gordhan vowed to use the unexpected opportunity to revive South Africa’s economy by controlling spending, reforming loss-making state companies and tackling rampant corruption. His work put him in direct conflict with Zuma loyalists such as the Gupta business family, who are accused of wielding huge influence over the government.
In a carefully-worded statement on Sunday, Ramaphosa said: “I lend my support to Minister Gordhan as he faces charges brought against him.”
Adding to the toxic political mix, Zuma last week went to court to block the release of an official anti-corruption probe into his relationship with the Guptas.
Zuma has survived several major scandals during his presidency, but at a cost to the party that led the long fight against apartheid rule and took power under Nelson Mandela in 1994.