South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma dismissed Pravin Gordhan as his finance minister, threatening further turmoil for the country’s fragile economy and setting the stage for the biggest crisis yet for the ruling African National Congress under his leadership.

Mr Zuma fired Mr Gordhan alongside eight other ministers as part of a late-night cabinet reshuffle on Thursday that was used to purge growing numbers of the president’s critics, but may trigger a backlash within the ANC that could fracture the party two years before national elections due in 2019.

Malusi Gigaba, the home affairs minister who has been Mr Zuma’s close ally, will replace Mr Gordhan as South Africa’s fourth finance minister in two years, the president said in a statement.

“I have decided to make changes to the National Executive in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness,” Mr Zuma said, adding that he would direct the new ministers to “work tirelessly with their colleagues to bring about radical socio-economic transformation.”

The rand fell nearly 4 per cent against the US dollar in late trading as the reshuffle began. The forced departure of Mr Gordhan, who fought to retain the country’s investment-grade status, may lead to rating agencies cutting South Africa to junk within days.

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