The sacking of South Africa's respected finance minister in a cabinet purge pitched the ruling ANC party into chaos Friday, creating one of its biggest tests since leading the fight against apartheid.
The country's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a unprecedented verbal attack on corruption-tainted President Jacob Zuma, whose midnight reshuffle sent the rand currency plunging and triggered accusations that he was promoting graft.
Zuma axed finance minister Pravin Gordhan, unleashing a wave of opposition in the African National Congress, which came to power under Nelson Mandela in the euphoric 1994 elections but has recently suffered declining support.
Ramaphosa went public with his anger, openly attacking his boss.
"I told him that I would not agree with him," Ramaphosa told reporters.
"There are quite a number of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about this situation, particularly the removal of the minister of finance who was serving the country with absolute distinction".
Gordhan was reportedly sacked because of an alleged intelligence report into meetings he held in London earlier this week.
"For him to be removed for this type of reasoning is to me unacceptable," Ramaphosa said.
Zuma made 20 new government appointments in the reshuffle.
"I'm very uncomfortable because areas where ministers do not perform have not been touched," Gwede Mantashe, the influential ANC secretary general, said.
"We can't be happy (with the decision to sack Gordhan) because we think that the finance minister was a hard worker."
Gordhan, who was widely seen as a competent manager of one of the world's most important emerging economies, was the highest profile victim of the reshuffle.
He had been at loggerheads with Zuma for months, receiving support from several ministers and foreign investors, as well as many ordinary South Africans and veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Gordhan campaigned for budget discipline and against corruption, but Zuma's allies have accused him of thwarting the president's desire to enact radical policies to tackle racial inequality.
Mantashe told 702 radio that Zuma was aware that many in the ANC were "unhappy" about the purge, in which Gordhan was replaced by home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba.
"The president came with a list. (He) said 'you can comment if you want to comment, but this is my decision,'" Mantashe said.
- 'Midnight massacre' -
The ANC, which was banned under white-minority rule, has lost popularity in recent years due to corruption allegations, record unemployment and slow economic growth.
The president is accused of being in the sway of the wealthy Gupta business family, allegedly granting them influence over government appointments, contracts and state-owned businesses.
John Steenhuisen, chief whip of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, described the reshuffle as a "midnight massacre".
"Zuma has got what he wanted, a Gupta ally in control (of the treasury)," he told AFP.
"Bad news for our country, bad news for the economy but mostly bad news for the nine million unemployed South Africans."
The president said that the changes were "to bring about radical socio-economic transformation and to ensure that the promise of a better life for the poor and the working class becomes a reality."
The rand was down more than seven percent for the week, after days of speculation that Zuma was about to move against Gordhan.
Zuma is due to step down as head of the ANC in December, ahead of the 2019 general election.
He is seen as favouring his ex-wife, former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to succeed him -- rather than Deputy President Ramaphosa.
Zuma retains widespread support from ANC members in some rural areas and has been able to rely on the party's large majority in parliament to easily survive several votes of no confidence.
Since coming to power in 2009, he has been hit by a series of corruption scandals, while the ANC suffered its worst ever results in local polls in August.