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Dissent: Some of the ANC’s top six officials apparently persuaded President Jacob Zuma to hold back on firing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan this week. (Delwyn Verasamy)
Dissent: Some of the ANC’s top six officials apparently persuaded President Jacob Zuma to hold back on firing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan this week. (Delwyn Verasamy)

President Jacob Zuma’s opponents in the ANC said this week they will make his life unbearable and force him to step down if he continued with his plans to remove Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from his position.

Last night, the anticipated axing of Gordhan was put into effect. In a more surprising move, former Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba will now take over the reins as South Africa’s new finance minister.

The anti-Zuma faction also warned they would join forces with opposition parties in Parliament and vote for a motion of no confidence in him. This comes after the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance on Thursday announced their plans to have Zuma removed as president.

EFF leader Julius Malema filed papers with the Constitutional Court on Thursday, seeking an order to compel National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete to either impeach Zuma or to take disciplinary action against him.

The DA said it has already written to Mbete informing her about its plans to table a motion of no confidence in Zuma in Parliament for what it termed his “reckless assault on the country’s economy”.

Zuma came under pressure this week from his comrades in the ANC-led alliance, with former president Kgalema Motlanthe quoting Ahmed Kathrada’s letter at his funeral service, in which he called for Zuma to step down.

The ANC’s top six officials this week pleaded with the president to review his decision to remove Gordhan and replace him with former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe – who was considered by many as the favourite for the post until last night.

ANC insiders had predicted Zuma may give in on Molefe as the new finance minister but his plans to remove Gordhan seemed inevitable.

“The reshuffle will happen. His [Zuma] supporters are feeding him lies. They think, if he does not reshuffle, he will become a lame duck. They believe the time for him to act is now.

“The biggest problem is that he is held on a leash by these crooks. They want the treasury,” said an ANC national executive committee [NEC] member who asked to remain anonymous said.

The NEC member warned Zuma to remove Gordhan at his own peril. “To us, it is immaterial who he wants to put there [as new finance minister]. Whether it is Brian Molefe, S’fiso Buthelezi or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as long as it is someone who is linked to him.

“Once he takes Pravin out, we must start a fight. The officials have started that fight. I think it was a good fight because this execution [to remove Gordhan] has been stayed up until now. That’s because of that fight. If he continues, the officials reserve the right to publicly differ.”

An ANC national working committee member said the anti-Zuma faction would not consider resigning en masse as a first option.

“There was a view before, which said people should consider mass resignation, but such a view was countered by ones which say: ‘Why do you leave people to replace you with looters? Why don’t you make life unbearable for him [Zuma] and speak out publicly about the wrongs that he does?’

“You are likely to see that option, not the mass resignation option. You are likely to see people remain in their position. You need more Cabinet members speaking out publicly [against Zuma]. You are likely to see somebody leading them [Cabinet ministers opposed to Zuma].”

The president first dropped his bombshell about his intention to remove Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, during his closing address of the ANC/South African Communist Party bilateral meeting on Monday.

SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said he was shocked when Zuma said he intended removing the two.

“This point comes when the president was closing the meeting. And of course we had to disrupt his closing of the meeting to respond to this point.

“And we said, no, it can’t be. [We need to] discuss this matter, and we gave him our view. He should have had the guts [to raise the issue in the meeting],” Mapaila added.

He described Zuma’s attempt to slip his decision into his closing address as a “footnote” and highly disrespectful.

“This is a sense of disrespect, not only to us but to his officials as well. They had not known [about it]. It was his intention [to include it as a footnote], and that’s part of the reason why we rejected it, because we don’t ever want to undermine this prerogative right and how it is exercised.”

Mapaila argued the presidential prerogative, which empowers Zuma to hire and fire ministers without consulting the ANC and alliance partners, was a hard-won right that did not belong to the head of state alone.

“He mustn’t ever think it belongs to him; it belongs to the movement that contested the elections and the collective leadership including ourselves,” Mapaila said.

Although he confirmed the SACP had been notified of the reshuffle, Mapaila said SACP members who are Cabinet ministers had not decided to resign in protest. That decision should be taken by the individual ministers, he added.

ANC Youth League president Collen Maine said the league was ready to defend Zuma and it supported his decision to remove Gordhan.

“We, as the youth league, have been calling for the removal of Gordhan for a long time. We want anything but Gordhan.

“When you give yourself a status of being a better comrade than others that is a problem … that is the problem with this one [Gordhan],” said Maine.

He insisted Zuma needed to appoint someone who had the capacity to implement the radical economic transformation.

“The phase we are in is radical economic transformation and we want people who are going to push this, not people who must go consult in England first. We want someone who understands that the ANC must push radical economic transformation and must deal decisively with the land issue. So anyone but Gordhan.”

In what has been interpreted as a clear indication that he would not retain Gordhan, Zuma on Thursday continued his campaign for radical economic transformation. Speaking in the National House of Traditional Leaders, the president repeated his calls for the Constitution to be amended to allow expropriation without compensation.

“We are not saying ‘let’s just go and take the land’. We are saying ‘let us amend the Constitution’. That is not anything wrong. Constitutions are amended all the time. You can’t have a Constitution that has clauses that makes people remain in poverty. That Constitution can’t be good,” he added.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.

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