The opposition Democratic Alliance has requested that parliament reconvene early to hold a no-confidence vote against President Jacob Zuma. This comes after a major cabinet reshuffle in which ten ministers were fired.
The speaker of South Africa's parliament, Baleka Mbete, who is also the national chairperson of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), cut short a trip to respond to the opposition-sponsored motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma had announced sweeping cabinet changes on Friday, and top ruling party officials said this was done without their consultation.
Parliament is currently on its Easter recess and not scheduled to return before May 10.
"Given the seriousness inherent in the motions of no confidence and their implication on the nation, I have therefore decided to cut my trip to Bangladesh short to ensure that these requests are given the appropriate consideration," Mbete told reporters as she arrived in Johannesburg.
Mbete said she would assess the request. If passed, it would result in Zuma having to step down.
The main opposition parties, the centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) and the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters Party (EFF), both wrote asking that Mbete reconvene parliament and hold an urgent sitting on the issue.
On Sunday, Speaker Mbete retweeted the three stages involved for parliament to table a no-confidence vote, starting with a "request to ascertain if it is compliant with the appropriate Rules."
Mbete ruled out a secret ballot in a possible vote, saying it was not in the parliamentary rules.
Previous no-confidence votes have been blocked due to the ANC's 62-percent majority in the 400-seat National Assembly. Opposition parties need 201 legislators out of 400 to vote for the motion to pass.
But this time, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize have publicly questioned the manner in which the cabinet changes were handled. The key decision among the 19 changes Zuma made to the administration on Friday was the sacking of internationally respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy.
Zuma and Gordhan have disagreed on the control of state finances and Zuma reportedly accused Gordhan of blocking other ministers' projects.
The cabinet changes came less than nine months before Zuma is due to step down as ANC leader, and a year after the country's top court ruled he violated his oath of office when he refused to repay taxpayer funds spent on his private home. His second and final term as the nation's president is due to end in 2019.
New finance minister
Former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, who has no financial or business experience, was named the new finance minister on Friday. On Saturday he said he would oversee a redistribution of wealth to the country's black majority. "The ownership of wealth and assets remains concentrated in the hands of a small part of the population. This must change," he told a televised news conference.
Gigaba has been accused, together with President Zuma, of close ties to the Gupta family and their business interests in South Africa. The Indian-South African family has interests in computer equipment, media and mining.
As he opened a housing project in his home province of Kwazulu Natal on Saturday, Zuma spoke of "our stated commitment to advance radical socio-economic transformation." There are suggestions this may include expropriating farmland without paying compensation to owners, being seen as a way to strengthen up his support in rural areas.
jm/rc (Reuters, AP)