— Yielding to widening criticism of his leadership over South Africa
’s ailing economy, President Jacob G. Zuma has removed a little-known lawmaker as finance minister just days after naming him to the post.
In a written announcement Sunday night, Mr. Zuma, who hours earlier had defiantly dismissed his critics before crowds of supporters, also reappointed as finance minister Pravin Gordhan, whose tenure in that position from 2009 to 2014 was widely praised.
The abrupt announcement followed a weekend of intensifying calls, including from high-profile members of Mr. Zuma’s governing African National Congress and the party’s traditional allies, that Mr. Zuma reconsider his appointment of David van Rooyen as finance minister on Thursday.
The selection of Mr. van Rooyen, an A.N.C. parliamentarian who has no experience in finance and was an unknown political figure nationally, led to a sudden drop in the rand, South Africa’s currency, and added to doubts among investors and credit rating agencies about the soundness of South Africa’s financial management.
The decision to replace Nhlanhla Nene with Mr. van Rooyen set off an avalanche of criticism that appeared to take Mr. Zuma by surprise.
Over the weekend, amid individual calls that Mr. Zuma resign, groups of leading academics, church leaders, politicians and labor leaders sent open letters to the president questioning his judgment and his stewardship over the economy.
The appointment of Mr. van Rooyen to one of the government’s most important positions was particularly reckless, they said, because South Africa was already reeling from the worldwide drop in the price of commodities and nearly slipped into a recession recently.
The South African Council of Churches called last week’s appointment “bordering on financially irresponsible” and said it would “undoubtedly affect all South Africans‚ but the poor are likely to be hit hardest by the possible turn of events.”
On Sunday, speaking to crowds of A.N.C. supporters, Mr. Zuma dismissed the criticism as coming from “people who talk a lot on TV,” according to the local news media.
But later that night, Mr. Zuma’s office released a statement announcing the removal of Mr. van Rooyen. “I have received many representations to reconsider my decision,” Mr. Zuma said. “As a democratic government, we emphasize the importance of listening to the people and to respond to their views.”
The reappointment of Mr. Gordhan, who Mr. Zuma said would promote “fiscal discipline and prudence,” calmed investors on Monday morning and led to a partial recovery of the rand. But critics said the damage to South Africa’s reputation, and Mr. Zuma’s, would be lasting.
“President Zuma has been playing Russian roulette with our economy and future as a country over the past five days,” the Democratic Alliance, the country’s main opposition party, said in a statement.
The second-biggest opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, said: “The country has had three finance ministers in one week. If anyone still does not think we are in a banana republic, they cannot be helped.”
Mr. Zuma, who is serving his second and last term in office, has overseen a government that has grown increasingly corrupt and has fueled widespread dissatisfaction in South Africa, including among many of the A.N.C.’s most loyal supporters.
Accused by critics of cronyism, Mr. Zuma has appointed allies with little experience to important positions in government and at state enterprises.
The recent reshuffling of finance ministers is believed to be related to a clash with the powerful chairwoman of South African Airways, the troubled national carrier. The airline’s chairwoman, Dudu Myeni, has been pushing for the purchase of 10 aircraft, a move that was opposed by Mr. Nene, who served as finance minister until last week.
Critics accused Mr. Zuma of abruptly removing Mr. Nene, who earned high praise during his year and a half as finance minister, and trying to replace him with the unknown Mr. van Rooyen as a way to facilitate the purchase of the aircraft.
Ms. Myeni was appointed to the board of South African Airlines in 2009 and eventually became chairwoman, even though she had no experience working in the airline industry. Ms. Myeni, who also heads the Jacob Zuma Foundation, is regarded as very close to Mr. Zuma.
Over the weekend, as Mr. Zuma defended his initial appointment as finance minister and denied that it was linked to the airline’s management, he also directly addressed longstanding accusations that he named Ms. Myeni to oversee the airline because they have been romantically involved.
“Her relationship with the president is purely professional, and is based on the running of the foundation,” Mr. Zuma’s office said. “Rumors about a romance and a child are baseless and are designed to cast aspersions on the president.”