South African finance minister pulled from overseas tour


Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – South Africa’s finance minister returned to Johannesburg on Tuesday after being abruptly ordered to pull out of a trade promotion trip to Britain and the United States, fuelling investor fears that he is about to be fired by President Jacob Zuma.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, 67, has a strong reputation as a bulwark against corruption and has reportedly blocked some questionable government deals over the management of state-owned companies like South African Airways. Gordhan has been criticized by several senior government officials allied to Zuma, 74.

South Africa’s rand has tumbled by close to 5 percent against the dollar since Zuma’s office released a statement on Monday instructing Gordhan to immediately return to South Africa.

Gordhan was in Britain as the head a delegation of South African government officials, business and labor representatives aiming to build confidence in investors in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Soon after his return to South Africa Tuesday, Gordhan was seen at the headquarters in Johannesburg of the ruling African National Congress party. Domestic and international investors see Gordhan as a symbol of economic stability in South Africa, where the economic growth has stalled and 6 million people, representing 27 percent of the working population, are unemployed.

Credit ratings agencies Fitch and Standard & Poors have warned that South Africa risks being downgraded to junk status if the government’s management of the economy is viewed as corrupt and inefficient. Economists have warned of a fall in the value of the rand if Gordhan is fired.

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