PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s axing of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene has left industry jittery, church leaders demanding an explanation and ANC members saying they are powerless to stop the party leader’s actions.
Many have expressed concern over Nene’s removal, especially as he had just started to find his feet after 18 months in the post.
David van Rooyen, a fairly unknown lightweight and a parliamentary backbencher, was sworn in as the country’s new finance minister at a ceremony in Pretoria yesterday.
In reaction, ANC members feel that although they are vehemently opposed to Zuma’s decision to axe Nene, they fear revenge if they speak out too directly.
One branch leader said: “If even one person decides to stand up and oppose the president, that is a death wish, a nail in your coffin, because he has surrounded himself with so many people loyal to him.
“As the Eastern Cape, we used to have the biggest influence, but now we are so divided we would not even be able to stand up against him.
“He is destroying the ANC and this country, but we can’t do anything about it.”
Another party member said while it was Zuma’s prerogative to change his cabinet, it was obvious his latest decision had been fuelled by corruption.
“People are starting to think that we should petition the president as citizens and march to the Union Buildings and call for his head,” the member said.
“Maybe that’s the way to go because it’s clear that those in leadership positions in the organisation can’t do anything because of factions and because they are protecting their positions.
“The reality is that Zuma will remain in power and drive his own agenda.”
The member said if Zuma “can manipulate things to suit him now”, how difficult would it be for him to install the person he wanted as the president in 2017?
“We are seriously in deep trouble, but no one is saying what the solutions are,” the member said.
An ANC leader said the move to axe Nene had come as a surprise to most in the party.
“No one is happy because you can’t just change a finance minister like that,” he said.
“But it is not our battle to fight because it is his [Zuma’s] prerogative to hire and fire.
“But there is an element of him as if he is above the organisation.
“He has way too much power and we cannot do anything because the organisation is divided.” An ANC councillor said: “I think he’s making the same mistake made by president Thabo Mbeki of thinking he’s bigger than the organisation.
“I don’t think the NEC [national executive committee] was even consulted because it looks like this was a unilateral decision.”
Another councillor said: “He has really lost it now and he is making it difficult for us on the ground.”
The Nelson Mandela Bay automotive industry warned that a continued slump in the rand, which deteriorated further after Nene’s sacking, would affect investments.
General Motors SA spokeswoman Denise van Huyssteen said the company was concerned about the impact the “significant and ongoing” devaluation was having.
“To retain and grow business investment in the country, we require certainty and predictability around economic policies,” she said.
Volkswagen Group SA spokesman Matt Gennrich said the change had the potential to erode international investor confidence.
“Our economy is already fragile and does not need further shocks such as the unexpected announcement,” Gennrich said.
“One reason that VW continues to invest in South Africa is the stable legislative framework . . . and any threat to this will have negative consequences.”
However, Gennrich said it was too early to assess any effect the change in ministers would have on the group.
“We will need to see and evaluate if the slide of the rand as a result of the announcement is ongoing or if it will recover to its earlier levels,” Gennrich said.
Bay church leaders demanded Zuma account for his decision.
Anglican Bishop Bethlehem Nopece said: “Nene was on track, holding things together when the economy was being battered.
“He proved reliable in a climate characterised by corruption.”
Fathers House pastor George Georgio said: “The president seems to have no regard for ethics and values.
“This is disconcerting to investors and their confidence has taken a knock.”
Meanwhile, a senior Treasury insider called the move “a disaster – an absolute disaster”.