Irrational. Unpredictable. Shocking. Gold medal for bad timing. Hurt investor confidence. Headed for a bailout.
These are a few of the things people are saying after South African President Jacob Zuma removed from office his respected Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, sending the rand plummeting.
Twitter and other media platforms were abuzz with South Africans venting using the hashtag #ZumaMustFall.
More than 82,000 people had signed a petition calling for Zuma’s resignation by 3:40 p.m. Friday EST, according to Change.org.
Nene earned the trust of investors and the irritation of other ministers by consistently trying to make the government keep its promise of limiting spending, TheEconomist reported.
An obscure politician, David van Rooyen, has replaced him– so obscure that a member of the shadow cabinet said he had to Google him after the appointment to find out who he was.
Van Rooyen was sworn in at the Union Buildings Thursday afternoon, where he acknowledged the colossal challenges of his new job, News24 reported.
The rand, already at a record low earlier in the week, went even lower to a record 15.3857 per dollar Wednesday, and it may depreciate as much as 13 percent to 17 in 2016 as outflows from bond and stock markets mount, according to Miyelani Maluleke, a Johannesburg-based analyst at Barclays, Bloomberg reported.
Zuma did not give reasons for changing finance ministers but many South Africans suspected it was because Nene had stood up to powerful allies of the president.
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The move shines the spotlight on other Zuma appointments, TheConversation reported. In 2012 a Constitutional Court judgment described a key appointment Zuma had made in the justice ministry as “irrational.”
Opposition leader of the Democratic Alliance Mmusi Maimane challenged Zuma to a public debate on the state of the economy, News24 reported.
Zuma must answer to the country and say why he fired Nene, who tried to steer the economy in positive direction, Maimane said in a statement.
Here are things South Africans are saying about Zuma:
Jackie Marumo tweeted, “After #reshufling of #nene, its time 2call on those who hav sober minds in #Anc 2say #Zumamustfall.”
Michael Charton tweeted “Quickly now.”
Some expressed hesitation. SKIJanuary @Martiias tweeted “Imagine if we had a #ZumaMustFall protest, The Police will probably go Marikana on us.”
Nene’s removal after 19 months on the job came a few days after credit-rating companies pushed South Africa’s rating closer to junk status– financial jargon for bonds that are deemed risky and so must offer a higher interest rate than investment-grade debt, TheEconomist explains.
Some analysts had predicted a recovery for the rand in 2016 once currency markets stabilized after the U.S. Federal Reserve hikes interest rates for the first time in almost 10 years, Bloomberg reported.
A Bloomberg survey compiled before Nene’s removal showed the rand gaining 1.4 percent over the next quarter.
“Zuma gets a gold medal for bad timing,” said Peter Kinsella, head of emerging-market economic and currency research at Commerzbank AG in London. “We can expect concerns of further ratings downgrades and the loss of investment-grade status in the short term. This doesn’t help the Reserve Bank’s task of stabilizing the rand.”
What will get South Africa out of this mess is a revolt in the ruling African National Congress that challenges Zuma to explain his actions and provide a credible plan to reform and manage the economy, wrote Mzukisi Qobo, associate professor at the Pan African Institute, University of Johannesburg, in TheConversation.
In addition, local government elections planned in early 2016 “should be a platform to rebuke government for its shambolic management of the economy,” Qobo said.