JOHANNESBURG: 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.
"We no longer believe in his leadership abilities," Ntshalintshali said at a media briefing.
"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.
- 'No confidence in President Zuma' -
The shake-up has "put at risk fiscal and growth outcomes", the ratings agency added as it downgraded South Africa to BB+ from BBB-.
Gigaba said that "there's not been a change in governments -- there has been a change in executive governance", adding that he had been working closely with his predecessor at the Treasury.
The rand fell three percent against the US dollar following Monday night's downgrade. The rand was trading at 13.86 against the greenback at 1045 GMT on Tuesday.
Moody's ratings agency too said it was placing its own South Africa rating -- two notches above "junk" status -- on review for a downgrade, a decision it said was "prompted by the abrupt change in leadership of key government institutions".
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, branded the S&P downgrade "a clear vote of no confidence in President Zuma".
The treasury issued a statement in response to the S&P downgrade saying it showed the need to "accelerate inclusive growth and development".
"Reducing reliance on foreign savings to fund investment and relying less on debt to finance public expenditure will secure South Africa's fiscal sovereignty and economic independence," it added.
The country was granted a reprieve at the end of last year when rating agencies did not drop it to the "junk" category following a series of downgrades.
Zuma's cabinet overhaul exposed deep divisions within the ANC, and DA officials are confident they can recruit enough support from ruling-party MPs to unseat the president.
"There are quite a number of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about this situation, particularly the removal of the minister of finance who was serving the country with absolute distinction," Ramaphosa, the ANC deputy president, said after the reshuffle.