President Jacob Zuma is facing the prospect of a mass Cabinet walk-out if he fires Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, according to four people with insider knowledge of the situation.
About 12 ministers are considering resigning their positions and then fighting for the president's removal, according to Bloomberg.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and some deputy ministers may also resign, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn't public. The officials would keep their seats in Parliament and possibly support or abstain from a vote of no confidence in the president if it's called by the opposition or by members of the African National Congress (ANC), they said.
The insiders said some lawmakers had started informal talks with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on the back of the hinted rebellion.
Zuma told the ANC's top six members and the South African Communist Party (SACP) that he planned to fire Gordhan because he was blocking his policies.
He ordered the finance minister and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, to return from summit meetings with investors in the UK earlier in the week, prompting speculation he planned to sack both of them as part of radical Cabinet reshuffle.
He could be holding off because of the feared impact on the markets. Analysts predict the economic impact of such a move could go one of two ways: either the reaction of the markets will be massive, making the removal of 2015 Nhlanhla Nene seem like a picnic in comparison, or the reaction will be muted as the markets have already prepared for political uncertainty.
Reports also state Zuma is considering leaving early next year, as long as Gordhan steps down now.