JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Jacob Zuma’s spokesman said on Friday there was no basis for reports that the South African president would axe his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, speculation about which has weighed on the currency and bonds.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, of which Zuma is leader and Ramaphosa deputy, has been riven by bitter infighting ahead of a party conference in December at which a new leader will be chosen.
“It’s rumors and gossip, and we don’t comment on them at all,” Zuma’s spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga told Reuters.
Ramaphosa, a trade unionist-turned-business tycoon, is viewed as the most likely rival candidate to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former chairwoman of the African Union, who is Zuma’s pick for the leadership and is the president’s ex-wife.
He has recently stepped up criticism of Zuma’s scandal-plagued government.
Asked in parliament on Thursday whether he might be sacked, Ramaphosa said only that he would accept the president’s decision if he lost his job. On Friday, a spokesman for the deputy president said: “We are aware of the speculation, but it is just speculation.”
Trade union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP), both partners in the ANC’s ruling alliance, have endorsed Ramaphosa, 64, for the leadership.
South Africa will elect a new president in 2019, and whoever the ANC picks in December is likely to take over from 75-year-old Zuma as the country’s leader.
Zuma is under pressure to step down before then, with a recent South African court ruling that nearly 800 corruption charges against him should be reinstated prompting more calls for the president to go.
Zuma reshuffled his cabinet for the second time in seven months on Tuesday, irking some within the ruling alliance by sacking a minister belonging to the SACP and appointing a close ally to oversee an opaque nuclear deal.
Analysts say Zuma may make further changes before December to strengthen his hand going into the ANC’s elective conference.
Speculation that he might remove Ramaphosa, who was the ANC’s chief negotiator during the 1990s transition from apartheid, weighed on the rand and bonds, which underperformed emerging market peers on Friday versus a firmer dollar.
“Other emerging markets are weaker but not as much as the rand. That’s because of lingering political uncertainty, especially these rumors about Zuma axing Ramaphosa,” said currency dealer at TreasuryOne Wichard Cilliers.
Ramaphosa told parliament on Thursday that “if (Zuma‘s) decision is to remove me, I will accept that as a decision that will be taken by the president and I will continue serving the people of South Africa in one form, shape or another”.
Speaking on Friday, Ramaphosa returned to the subject of corruption within the government and state-owned companies, which is expected to be a main theme of his leadership campaign.
“Our state has been captured by people who ... want to milk the state, who want to rob our country of the money that belongs to the people,” Ramaphosa told members of the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in Cape Town.
“Our state is now being talked about in the rest of the world in the most negative terms, captured by certain interests, by certain families, by certain individuals.”
Wealthy friends of Zuma, the Guptas, have been accused by ANC and opposition politicians of using their close relationship with the president and his allies to influence the awarding of government contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Zuma and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing and the Indian-born South African businessmen and their companies have not been charged with any crime in South Africa.
Regulators in the United States and Britain are looking into links between the Gupta family, the South African government, and banks they may have used to move money as a corruption investigation escalates.
In a statement on Friday, Dlamini-Zuma denied she had any links to the Gupta family.
Additional reporting by Alexander Winning and Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Catherine Evans