The rand is still trading as if South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma is as good as gone. But the options market suggests some investors are starting to lose conviction.
The currency extended its advance on Tuesday, even after Zuma refused the ruling African National Congress’ order to step down. The rand’s advance since Dec. 18, when market favorite Cyril Ramaphosa was elected leader of the ruling African National Congress, is the strongest out of 16 major peers.
But the premium of contracts to sell the rand over those to buy it in the next week – known as the 25-Delta risk reversal – climbed for a fifth straight day, reaching a level last seen before Ramaphosa clinched the ANC’s leadership battle.
Problem is, the party that put Zuma in office has no authority to fire him as president. It could instruct its lawmakers in Parliament to vote in favor of a motion of no confidence which, if carried, would remove Zuma and his cabinet. Or it could start impeachment proceedings, a process that may take much longer.
Either way, the government is running out of time to signal a new beginning for Africa’s most-industrialized economy: the crucial budget presentation is scheduled for Feb. 21, and rating companies are waiting to pounce should it fail to deliver on Ramaphosa’s promises of fiscal responsibility and growth-stimulating measures.
And the longer it takes, the higher the risk of a reversal in the rand’s fortunes. The currency could weaken as much as 4%t to R12.50 per dollar, from around R11.90 on Tuesday, as political instability increases, according to Saktiandi Supaat, the Singapore-based head of foreign-exchange at Malayan Banking BHD.
“This may get a bit messier,” warned Simon Quijano-Evans, a London-based emerging-markets strategist at Legal & General Investment Management Ltd.
The rand gained 0.2% to R11.9076 per dollar by 11:06 a.m. in Johannesburg.
South Africans awoke to find their nation in limbo after president Jacob Zuma’s refusal to obey his ruling African National Congress’s request to resign voluntarily prompted its top leadership to order his removal from office.
The ANC’s National Executive Committee decided to “recall” Zuma, 75, during a 13-hour meeting that ended early Tuesday, according to five people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public.
It marked the failure of efforts to convince Zuma to agree to an amicable transfer of power from his scandal-ridden administration to one headed by party leader Ramaphosa.
Unless Zuma decides to resign soon, the ANC will have to order its lawmakers in parliament to approve a motion of no confidence in the president. The political impasse already forced the unprecedented postponement of last week’s scheduled annual state-of-the-nation address and may imperil the presentation of the budget on Feb. 21.
The ANC is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. to explain its next move. Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.
“There is nothing good about a leadership limbo in any country,” said Daniel Silke, the director of Political Futures Consultancy in Cape Town. “This extreme political uncertainty is the last thing South Africa needs as it tries to claw back some credibility in the minds of investors and the global community.”
The ANC wants Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old former labor union leader and businessman, to take over as soon as possible before elections next year so he has time to show he can meet his pledges to rebuild a battered economy — the most industrialized in Africa — and clamp down on the graft that critics say marred the Zuma era.
The rand has gained the most against the dollar of the 16 major currencies since his Dec. 18 election as ANC leader.
The ANC will convene a special meeting of its parliamentary caucus on Wednesday, its chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, said, without revealing what would be discussed. A scheduled gathering of chief whips from all the political parties was brought forward by two hours, and the start of parliamentary committee meetings was delayed.
Zuma, the ANC’s former head of intelligence, took office in May 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. He spent years fighting a bid by opposition parties to have those charges reinstated and fending off allegations that he allowed members of the Gupta family, who are in business with one of his sons, to influence cabinet appointments and the award of state contracts.
Zuma’s future, both within the ANC and as a private citizen, is in play, according to Abdul Waheed Patel, the managing director of Cape Town-based Ethicore Political Consulting.
“Everything is going to be dependent on how he exits,” he said by phone. “The possibility that he will be removed through a parliamentary motion looks more likely now than it did a few hours ago. It’s not looking like he will resign voluntarily.”
South Africa’s opposition parties want the National Assembly to debate a motion of no confidence in Zuma this week and for parliament to be dissolved immediately after that ahead of an early election. The Economic Freedom Fighters, the third-biggest party, last month proposed the no-confidence motion that’s currently due to be debated on Feb. 22, and plans to go to court if it isn’t brought forward.
Disgruntlement with Zuma’s rule caused support for the ANC to fall in 2016 municipal elections and cost it control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria.
Under Zuma, economic growth has averaged just 1.6% a year, undermined partly by a series of policy missteps and inappropriate appointments that rocked investor and business confidence.
His second and final term was due to end around mid-2019. He survived two previous bids to topple him in the ANC’s NEC since November 2016, but the balance of power in the panel shifted after Ramaphosa won the party presidency.
“This leadership impasse is debilitating for the country,” Silke said. “It is depressing for its citizens, it is damaging for the ruling party and in particular it is damaging for the incoming leader Ramaphosa because of his inability to deliver a killer blow.”