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S.Africa ruling party to consider finance minister’s fate

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party will meet to discuss the future of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan after he was summoned to court on fraud charges, a party spokesman said Wednesday.

The announcement on Tuesday that Gordhan would be prosecuted sparked investor fears that he would also be sacked — a move likely to spell further trouble for South Africa’s dire economic health.

Gordhan has alleged that the case against him is politically motivated, while many analysts say he has been targeted by loyalists of President Jacob Zuma.

The finance minister has been a vocal opponent of corruption and excessive spending by Zuma’s government, which has been hit by a series of graft scandals and slowing economic growth.

“The ANC, given the seriousness of the accusations against him, will be meeting urgently to discuss the way forward,” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa told the Sowetan newspaper.

Gordhan, who also served as finance minister from 2009 to 2014, was re-appointed last December to calm panicked investors after Zuma sacked two finance ministers within four days.

But since then he has regularly clashed with senior ANC figures after vowing to battle poor governance and to impose reform on cash-bleeding state-run entities such as South African Airways.

– Downgrade looms? –

Gordhan has vowed to revive the economy that is forecast to grow just 0.4 percent while also facing a damaging credit ratings downgrade to junk status within months.

He has vowed to fight on in his job, despite being due to appear in court on November 2.

“The Zuma faction, which lacks sufficient support within the ANC to force Gordhan out at this stage, is likely to have to wait for a ratings downgrade, most likely in December,” the New York-based Eurasia Group consultancy said Wednesday.

“If Zuma removes Gordhan without a critical mass of ANC support, he would be weakened but still likely retain the presidency through the 2019 national election.”

Zuma is due to step down when his second term in office ends in 2019, and he has shrugged off growing calls from anti-apartheid stalwarts and from within the ANC to resign earlier.

The rand slumped 3.9 percent on Tuesday, and fell by 0.8 percent on Wednesday.

“More damaging than the pain inflicted on the markets is the pain that the charging of the finance minister inflicts on our body politic,” the Business Day newspaper said in an editorial.

“It is demonstrably clear that there remains deep determination from certain political quarters to grab control of the nation’s purse strings.”

Shaun Abrahams, head of the National Prosecuting Authority, announced Tuesday that Gordhan would be prosecuted for alleged misconduct over a retirement package paid to a colleague in 2010.