March 31 (UPI) -- South African President Jacob Zuma's purge of his cabinet prompted a backlash from his political party and a fall in the country's currency.
Zuma made sweeping cabinet changes Thursday, including the removal of respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan, seen as a stable force seeking to restrain government spending and preventing Zuma's relatives and close associates from undue influence. The South African rand fell 2.8 percent against the U.S. dollar after Gordhan's removal, Bloomberg News reported, and has fallen 6.8 percent this week, the largest plunge of 140 currencies tracked by Bloomberg. South African stocks and corporate bonds also fell sharply.
Gordhan will be replaced by current Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, the newspaper The Telegraph reported. Gigaba is a Zuma loyalist with no experience in economics or budgeting. South Africa currently has a zero-growth GDP, a decreasing tax base and an unemployment rate of 26.5 percent.
The cabinet changes come nine months before Zuma, 74, is expected to step down as leader of the African National Congress, the country's ruling party. His administration, in power since 2009, has been rocked by continuous scandals; 783 corruption charges, linked to a 1990s arms deal, were reinstated. In 2016 the country's Constitutional Court ruled Zuma violated his oath of office by refusing to return government funding used to upgrade his private home.
ANC leaders were surprised and angered by Zuma's sudden removal of cabinet members.
"There are quite a lot of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about the situation, particularly the removal of the minister of finance," said Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma's deputy.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said there was no consultation between Zuma and the party on cabinet replacements.
Mcebsi Jonas, ANC party leader in Parliament, commented that the ousted cabinet members' "crime is incorruptibility. We stand with them."