Mail and Guardian
President Jacob Zuma told top ANC leaders that he wanted to fire Pravin Gordhan as finance minister as far back as November last year, but was persuaded to delay his decision by the ANC’s top six officials, the governing party has admitted.
On Wednesday, ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte revealed that Zuma began consultations with them on his desire to axe Gordhan just weeks after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped fraud charges against the finance minister.
The NPA had charged Gordhan with irregularly approving the early retirement of South African Revenue Services employee Ivan Pillay.
Duarte spoke to journalists after the ANC held an extended national working committee (NWC) meeting at its headquarters in Johannesburg this week.
“We’ve known for quite a while. The president indicated in November that it was his wish [to axe Gordhan] … he was persuaded by us that we should wait a while. He explained his reasons then, that the relationship between himself and Gordhan was not good. So we did know,” Duarte said.
She also confirmed that Zuma again consulted the top six before sacking Gordhan in the early hours of last Friday. Last week, the Mail & Guardian revealed that the officials had learnt about Zuma’s intention to fire Gordhan in the ANC president’s closing address to a bilateral meeting last Monday with its tripartite alliance ally, the South African Communist Party.
Duarte also confirmed that the party’s integrity commission had not asked Zuma to step down as head of state. “The integrity commission withdrew the letter on the basis that the letter did not represent a resolution. The letter had been faxed late at night and some members [of the commission] only saw the letter at the meeting and on that basis asked for it to be withdrawn,” she said.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe rubbished reports that the commission made a similar recommendation to Zuma when they met him at the end of last year. “There is no December report from the integrity commission. The president only had a meeting with commission and that will be followed by another meeting on April 9,” he said.
Appearing to retract his criticism of Zuma’s reshuffle last Friday, Mantashe said the NWC agreed that: “The public dissonance was a mistake that should not be committed again.”
Asked if he withdrew his remarks at the NWC meeting, Mantashe said no.
He also denied that he and the party’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize had to apologise for their public statements.
Ramaphosa described Zuma’s decision to axe Gordhan on the basis of an unverified intelligence report as “unacceptable.”
Mkhize said Zuma’s attempt to have the ANC top six legitimize changes to the Cabinet which they were not consulted on, meant the ANC was no longer at the centre of power.
Mbalula lashes out at Gordhan and other ANC leaders
Fikile Mbalula, ANC national executive committee member and newly elected police minister, has accused some party leaders who have publicly criticised President Jacob Zuma of attempting to cause a rupture in the party.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Mbalula also accused former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, of being partly to blame for a decision by ratings agency S&P Global to downgrade South Africa to subinvestment grade.
Despite his belief that Gordhan and Jonas contributed the downgrade, Gigaba revealed in a press briefing this week that S&P had already made a decision by Friday morning – before Gordhan made his calls for mass mobilisation on Saturday at the memorial service in Johannesburg of liberation hero Ahmed Kathrada.
The agency said its decision was informed by last week’s Cabinet reshuffle last week which it believed would cause policy uncertainty.
Mbalula said: “Society has all believed in Pravin Gordhan because Pravin Gordhan has projected himself as an individual who’s first got the national interest at heart and he wants South Africa to flourish.
“But the way they have been going on, with Mcebisi with their Hollywood style of addressing meetings, mobilising society … you can equally say that the decision by these ratings agencies among others is informed by that.”
Gordhan’s calls have been interpreted by Mbalula as an effort to undermine new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s work of reassuring the markets of South Africa’s stability.
“What we have seen is a mobilisation by those who were appointed in those positions to basically undermine that work [of reassuring the markets]. And these are members of the ANC, members of the national executive committee.”
Zuma’s supporters, including the ANC’s youth and women’s leagues, have denounced S&P’s actions, with the women’s league calling for urgency on plans to establish a Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) ratings agency.
Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle has not only caused concern among ratings agencies but also among senior ANC leaders such as treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary general Gwede Mantashe, all of whom distanced themselves from the president’s actions. In what appeared to be a co-ordinated criticism last week, all three leaders accused Zuma of imposing a ready-made list of changes to the ANC’s top six instead of consulting them on changes to the Cabinet.
The reshuffle has also seen alliance partners labour federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party, as well as the ANC’s integrity commission, calling on the president to step down.
Mbalula has sprung to Zuma’s defence, accusing the integrity commission of allowing itself to be used in a plot to overthrow the president. He expressed concern that those who were calling for Zuma to step down were jeopardising unity in the party.
“What these leaders want for us to do now is to basically not only bring about a rupture but disrupt the ANC. And they say that President Zuma must be recalled. And thereafter what do they want?” he said.
“They know we’ve got a conference, a highly contested conference. Whose gonna take over from President Zuma [now]? It’s to further divide the ANC. So let the conference settle that score, in relation to leadership.”
Despite what appeared to be the start of an internal revolt against Zuma shortly after his Cabinet reshuffle, the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) this week called to order officials who had publicly criticised the president. In a statement released after a two-day meeting, the NWC agreed that the “public dissonance was a mistake that should not be committed again”.
For Mbalula, the public disagreement with the president represents an uncharacteristic deviation from the party’s principles of discipline and order.
“The mobilisation that is out there and that is generated in society comes from the very same leaders of the ANC whom we have looked up to for years and they have given us education about issues of discipline and conduct, but they’ve basically acted uncharacteristically,” he said.
“I don’t know what to even say to them about their behaviour because these are the people that we have grown up respecting. They have given us politics. And some of us have not deviated from those politics.”