JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's speaker of parliament said she is considering an emergency motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma after he fired the country's widely respected finance minister last week.
Baleka Mbete said Sunday that she cut short an overseas trip to deal with the "serious parliamentary issues" that have arisen since Zuma reshuffled his Cabinet last week.
Mbete, speaking to Johannesburg at Johannesburg airport upon her arrival from Bangladesh, said her office received a letter from the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, requesting that the national assembly, which is in recess until May 10, resume earlier to vote on the motion.
The request for the motion, which would result in Zuma having to step down if it is passed, must be assessed to see if it is compliant with the parliament's rules, she said.
Opposition parties need 201 legislators out of 400 to vote for the motion to pass, but is uncertain if they will garner adequate numbers in a parliament dominated by the ruling African National Congress. Zuma has easily survived earlier votes of no confidence. However top ANC members have been vocal in their criticism of Zuma in recent days and they might not support him as before.
"I must stress that I am alive to the extreme challenges and sense of anxiety our young democracy is going through at this moment," Mbete said. "South Africans are expecting our institutions of democracy such as parliament to demonstrate decisive leadership. This is a responsibility that parliament, for its part, does not take lightly."
The currency of one of Africa's most industrialized economies slipped sharply on Friday amid concerns about corruption at top levels of government after Zuma fired finance minister Pravin Gordhan and replaced him with one of his allies. Gordhan was seen as a bulwark against corruption and his sacking set off an outcry by anti-Zuma factions in the ruling African National Congress and opposition parties.
Economists say it is likely that South Africa, which saw economic growth of just 0.5 percent last year and has an unemployment rate of around 27 percent, will be downgraded to junk status by credit ratings agencies.
Calls have been growing for Zuma to step down since August last year when the ANC lost control of key metropolitan areas in local elections, partly because of dissatisfaction with the president's performance.
Although the ANC's reputation as the main movement against apartheid has been tainted, it is still seen as the front-runner ahead of general elections in 2019.