South Africa’s powerful trade union federation Cosatu, a key coalition partner of the ruling ANC, on Tuesday called for embattled President Jacob Zuma to resign following a deeply unpopular cabinet reshuffle.
Union general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said it was time for Zuma to “step down” after his purge last week of cabinet critics, which included the removal of the respected former finance minister, Pravin Gordhan.
Gordhan’s sacking contributed to a credit ratings downgrade to junk status on Monday by Standard & Poor’s as pressure on Zuma grew over his move to oust opponents within the cabinet.
“The president was careless and reckless,” he said, adding that the downgrade would “cost the country a lot”.
Cosatu, along with the South African Communist Party and the ANC, was at the forefront of the effort to dislodge white-minority rule in South Africa that led to non-racial elections in 1994.
It has openly backed Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who led Cosatu during the anti-apartheid struggle, to succeed him in 2019 when the president must stand down.
“Even if it means marching into the street we will do that to make our point. We believe in this alliance led by the ANC but we want a reconfiguration of this alliance,” said Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini.
Cosatu’s intervention came as South Africa’s new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said that Monday’s downgrade to junk status was a setback for the economy.
“We acknowledge yesterday’s announcement was a setback… but now is not a time for despondency,” he told a media conference.
“What these reviews highlight is that we need to reignite our nation’s growth engines.”
S&P said the cut to below investment grade reflects “heightened political and institutional uncertainties” following Zuma’s shock purge of critical ministers.