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South Africa's president fires respected finance minister as currency tumbles

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Pravin Gordhan has been fired (Schalk van Zuydam/AP)

Pravin Gordhan has been fired (Schalk van Zuydam/AP)

Pravin Gordhan has been fired (Schalk van Zuydam/AP)

South Africa's president has fired his respected finance minister in an expected move that has spooked investors and sent the currency tumbling.

President Jacob Zuma's replacement of Pravin Gordhan on Friday comes as part of a cabinet shuffle that changes 10 of the country's 35 ministers.

"Holy wow. Midnight ministerial massacre in South Africa," former US ambassador Patrick Gaspard tweeted.

The new ministers will be sworn in later Friday.

Pressure has been growing on Zuma to step down after he recalled Gordhan, who has a strong reputation as a bulwark against corruption, from a trade trip to London earlier this week.

The recall caused South Africa's rand to lose nearly 5%, another blow to Africa's most industrialised economy that grew just 0.5% last year.

Many South Africans had viewed Gordhan as a responsible steward of an economy facing possible credit rating downgrades.

Gordhan has been replaced by Malusi Gigaba, a former home affairs minister, a statement from the president's office said.

The Cabinet shuffle comes as the calls for Zuma to step down grow.

"Zuma has bowed to the whims of those who determined to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor & jobless," the country's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, tweeted after the announcement.

The party on Thursday said it would launch a vote of no confidence in Zuma in parliament.

Frustration has been growing with Zuma after numerous allegations of corruption.

South Africa's two main opposition parties took aim at the president on Thursday, with one appealing to the highest court to order impeachment proceedings and the other announcing it will launch a vote of no confidence.

On Wednesday, Gordhan inspired a standing ovation at the funeral of one of South Africa's leading anti-apartheid activists, as longtime leaders of the ruling African National Congress, the country's former liberation movement, called for Zuma to step down.

The outcry by funeral-goers, including the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, further exposed the ruling party's divide.

The new Cabinet changes are "to improve efficiency and effectiveness," the statement from Zuma's office said.

But even allies of the ruling party had warned against replacing Gordhan.

Deputy general-secretary Solly Mapaila of the South African Communist Party, which is in an alliance with the ANC, warned Thursday that the party's seven Cabinet members would resign if Zuma fired the finance minister.

Also Thursday, the Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party applied to the country's highest court to order parliament to begin impeachment proceedings against the president for lying to the legislative body.

The scandal-ridden Zuma in November survived an attempt by senior party members to oust him as president.

Earlier last year, South Africa's highest court found that Zuma had violated his oath of office by refusing to abide by an order to pay back some of the millions in public money spent on upgrading his rural home.

AP

PA Media