South Africa's Gordhan returns, says still finance minister despite talk of sacking | Reuters

By Nqobile Dludla and Mfuneko Toyana
| JOHANNESBURG/PRETORIA

JOHANNESBURG/PRETORIA Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan flew back to South Africa on Tuesday, obeying an abrupt recall from President Jacob Zuma, and said he was still the finance minister when asked about reports that he was about to be sacked.The rand, which trimmed its losses to 1 percent against the dollar following his comment, has been volatile since Zuma ordered Gordhan to return from a trip to Britain, rattling investors who see the minister as a focus of stability.Gordhan said "yes" when asked by a reporter if he was still the finance minister. "I think ask the presidency," he said when asked if he knew why he had been recalled.He was speaking outside a court in the capital Pretoria, where he attended a hearing of a case concerning the closure of accounts belonging to friends of the president, the Gupta brothers. The case has been a bone of contention between Zuma and his finance minister.Talk Radio 702 said Gordhan's dismissal had been discussed on Monday at talks between Zuma and the South African Communist Party, allies of the ruling African National Congress.The six most senior members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party had approved Gordhan's removal, ANN7 television reported, citing unnamed sources. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, one of the ANC's top six, told Reuters he could not comment on the report.Gordhan went to the ANC's Luthuli House headquarters in downtown Johannesburg after his arrival, before going to court.Zuma's order to return cut short Gordhan's investor roadshow in Britain and the United States, triggering jitters that a long-running power struggle between the two men was coming to a head and threatening more turmoil for Africa's most developed economy.

"The president is my boss so if he asks us to come back, we come back," Gordhan said upon his arrival earlier on Tuesday. "There are many in government who want to do the right thing and make sure we keep our economy on track and keep our development moving in the right direction," he added without elaborating.Some pundits say Gordhan is being pressured by a faction allied to Zuma, which has criticised his plans to rein in government spending as the economy stagnates and rapped his running of the tax agency. Gordhan has wrangled for months with the head of the agency, a Zuma ally.POINT OF NO RETURN?

"We now believe Mr Zuma has reached his own point of no return and will now push his agenda to get rid of Mr Gordhan without regard for the cost or consequences," said political analyst Gary van Staden of NKC African Economics."Were Pravin Gordhan to actually be removed, we think that the rand could fall by another 5 percent against the USD," Capital Economics Africa economist John Ashbourne said in a note. The main opposition Democratic Alliance party asked Zuma to explain his order to recall Gordhan. "Why does he simply not tell South Africa?", it said in a statement.Gordhan first served as finance minister from 2009 to 2014 and was brought back by Zuma in December 2015 to calm markets spooked by the president's decision to replace respected Nhlanhla Nene with a little-known politician.

South African media reports suggest Zuma and Gordhan have an uneasy relationship, though the president has denied being "at war" with his finance minister.Zuma has come under mounting political pressure since South Africa's anti-graft watchdog called last year for a judge to investigate allegations of influence peddling in his government, in particular allegations that brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta wielded undue influence over the president.Zuma says the Guptas are his friends and denies there is anything improper about the relationship. The brothers have denied any wrong-doing.The court case Gordhan attended on Tuesday concerns repeated requests by the Guptas that he intervene to help reverse a decision by major banks to close some of the business accounts of the brothers' Oakbay Investments.Gordhan argues it is inappropriate for the finance minister to get involved between a bank and its clients and has asked the High Court to rule that he has no power to interfere in the banks' decisions. ($1 = 12.7595 rand) (Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Olwethu Boso, TJ Strydom, Tanisha Heiberg and Joe Brock in Johannesburg and Siyabonga Sishi in Pretoria; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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Published Date: Mar 28, 2017 09:47 pm | Updated Date: Mar 28, 2017 09:47 pm

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