Speculation is rife that Mr. Zuma might be compelled to step down before the scheduled end of his second five-year term in 2019, clearing the way for another party leader to take the reins.
Mr. Gordhan, who learned of his dismissal from television, defended his record on Friday as protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the National Treasury, part of the Finance Ministry.
“We hope more and more South Africans will make it absolutely clear that our country is not for sale,” Mr. Gordhan said. “It is important that the public knows what we do at the Treasury, how we serve South Africa, how the budgeting process works and how we make sure that the poor in South Africa benefit from the taxes that we collect from all South Africans, as well.”
The firing Thursday night capped a week of tensions that began on Monday when Mr. Zuma ordered Mr. Gordhan to return abruptly from a trade and investment roadshow in Britain. As rumors circulated that Mr. Gordhan would be fired, Mr. Zuma summoned top leaders of his party for a meeting. It did not produce consensus, officials have said.
The South African Communist Party, part of the A.N.C.-led coalition that governs the country, said that Mr. Zuma had cited an intelligence report speculating that Mr. Gordhan might be plotting to undermine him. Mr. Gordhan has called the report preposterous.
Jackson Mthembu, a senior A.N.C. lawmaker, said that the intelligence report’s accusations were “plain rubbish” and that Mr. Gordhan’s only crime…