South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday acknowledged that public disputes at top levels of government are a “serious weakness” and sought to reassure investors after the currency tumbled in response to his firing of the finance minister.
Zuma spoke ahead of planned demonstrations in the coming days against the dismissal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which increased concerns about government corruption and ruling party infighting. South Africa’s rand fell Monday after Standard & Poor’s, a credit ratings agency, lowered the country to below investment grade, citing political instability and threats to economic growth.
In a speech in an industrial area of the capital, Pretoria, Zuma thanked Gordhan for assisting in the handover of the finance ministry to successor Malusi Gigaba, and he said the government “will do everything possible” to promote unity within its ranks.
“We know that public statements which indicate disagreements within government by ministers, for example, demoralize our people and create confusion,” said Zuma, who faces growing calls to resign because of scandals but still commands significant support within the ruling African National Congress party.
“This is a serious weakness and we shall attend to it within renewed vigor,” the president said.
Some senior ruling party figures have criticized the dismissal of Gordhan, who generally received positive reviews for his strong anti-corruption stance and stewardship of one of Africa’s biggest economies. They include Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize, the party’s treasurer-general.
Over the weekend, Ramaphosa called for South Africans to get rid of “greedy” and “corrupt” people, though he did not mention anyone by name.
The women’s league of the ruling party has vigorously supported Zuma. It said Standard & Poor’s is hostile to South African interests and called its downgrade decision politically motivated.
Emboldened opposition groups are planning demonstrations against Zuma, hoping to capitalize on national discontent with the party that has led South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is pushing for a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Zuma; previous votes have failed to dislodge him because the ruling party has a majority of seats.
The government has said social media calls to hold protests against Zuma on Friday are designed to damage the country’s image and economy. It referred to messages that it said have called for a “shutdown of the country” and warned against any illegal protests that could lead to violence and destruction of property.