Zuma’s recalling of Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, from roadshows in London and the US aimed at investors and ratings agencies shook the markets and the business community.
Treasury officials are said to be preparing for the axing of their political heads.
By late last night the president – emboldened after facing down his critics at a weekend meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee – had yet to explain his decision, taken on the eve of a courtroom showdown between Gordhan and the Gupta family over the family’s access to banking facilities.
The ANC’s top six spent yesterday in marathon talks with the six leaders of the SA Communist Party, who have previously threatened to withdraw from the cabinet if Zuma moves against Gordhan.
The Times understands that at yesterday’s meeting the SACP was due to raise concerns about the lack of constraints on Zuma’s prerogative to appoint and fire ministers.
The meeting was described as tense, convened shortly after the SACP gave the ANC an ultimatum to deal with the Guptas, former Eskom CEO and now ANC MP Brian Molefe, and the social grants crisis.
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said last night it was not known why Zuma ordered the “immediate” return to South Africa of Gordhan and Jonas – echoing what ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told journalists earlier in the day.
Mantashe said Gordhan’s recall was a government matter and the national executive committee had no part in it.
When asked to comment on the rand weakening against the dollar in reaction to the news, Mantashe said: “The real impact will be seen when there are any other steps.”
The rand lost more than 50c against the dollar on the day.
Mantashe would not say if he had not been told of an imminent cabinet reshuffle.
The Banking Association of SA criticised Zuma’s decision to abort the roadshows.
The managing director of the association, Cas Coovadia, said it would depress investor confidence in South Africa and raise the risks of a credit downgrade by ratings agencies.
“We appeal to the president and all critical stakeholders to act in the best interests of the country by avoiding precipitate actions that have significant negative impact on economic growth and social development,” he said.
Coovadia said the removal of Gordhan would lead to uncertainty at a time when South Africa’s economy was struggling.
The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry called on Zuma to explain his decision to recall Gordhan and Jonas.
“No reasons have been put forward for what appears to be an unusual decision, especially since the finance ministers are spear-heading the roadshow for promoting South Africa as an investment destination,” Sacci said.
“We are concerned about the uncertainty and the instability this will cause to the financial markets and to business confidence.
“We urge the Presidency to provide clear and cogent reasons to stabilise the markets, as this continues to fuel speculation and innuendo, and drives the narrative for the rumours about the ‘capture’ of the Treasury.”
The recall decision led to Treasury officials scrambling to find a flight back to South Africa for Gordhan and Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile.
The officials had the embarrassment of trying to explain to prospective investors who had agreed to meet Team SA – Treasury, business and labour representatives – why the roadshow was cancelled, without themselves having a clue.
A source associated with the trip said: “It is a mess. Many of those [in the] delegation are leaving tonight and are paying for the trip themselves. The Treasury said it can’t pay for everyone. Most people agreed to join for the good of the economy. Now all of that is wasted.”