For as long as Pravin Gordhan remains Minister of Finance while Jacob Zuma is South Africa’s president, the question would have to be asked whether he has political support to do his job. Gordhan was appointed under duress and Zuma has made it known that he felt Des van Rooyen was “most qualified” for the position. Gordhan has been under attack from the Hawks, several state-owned companies, the ANC deputy secretary general, the youth and women’s leagues of the ANC, the military veterans association and other Gupta family cohorts. What matters is whether he has political backing from the presidency and his organisation, the ANC. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe appeared quite emboldened on Tuesday to declare after a national working committee (NWC) meeting:
“The ANC reaffirms its unreserved confidence in the Minister of Finance, Comrade Pravin Gordhan and the work of the National Treasury.”
This is in relation to the Hawks’ investigation of Gordhan in relation to the operation of a special intelligence unit at the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Mantashe said the public spectacle that had resulted from the Hawks investigation was “hurting the economy”. In response to questions about the credibility of the investigation, Mantashe said the way it was being conducted was “unnatural” and “delegitimises the process”. But he also said that nobody was above the law and that all parties to the dispute should co-operate in the investigation.
Had Mantashe made these statements off his own bat, they would not have had the same clout as the entire NWC declaring “unreserved confidence” in Gordhan and the Treasury. But what does that mean when the ANC Youth League, ANC Women’s League, the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) and Mantashe’s deputy, Jessie Duarte, had all attacked Gordhan for not presenting himself to Hawks as the police unit had ordered?
Duarte had laid it on quite thick, saying in an interview with the Gupta-owned ANN7 television station that the public support for Gordhan had turned into an “international campaign against South Africa”. While defending the Gupta family, Duarte accused her “comrade” of “grandstanding” and projecting himself as being above the law. She claimed that the longer Gordhan’s innocence remained unproven in a court of law, the more he ran the risk of debasing his “personal integrity”.
Mantashe made a concerted effort not to answer whether Duarte was mandated to speak on this matter and whether she was representing the ANC’s views. He did however smack down the MKMVA, saying they should not have spoken out on the Hawks-Gordhan matter. Allowing Des van Rooyen to address the media on the issue was also a “terrible choice”, Mantashe said. Van Rooyen, who had been in Gordhan’s job for four days before he was abruptly moved to the co-operative governance portfolio, attacked Gordhan for seeking public sympathy through the media.
One of the issues that had annoyed senior ANC members about the MKMVA briefing was Van Rooyen’s get-up. The military-looking apparel he had on was not the uniform of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.
“It was like he was at a fancy dress party,” a senior ANC leader told Daily Maverick.
The hapless Van Rooyen has now been dressed down. The NWC statement would now “override” everything anyone else in the ANC has said on the matter, Mantashe said.
The NWC is made up of 20 ANC national executive committee (NEC) members and the party’s top six officials. While this statement is significant, there is an important fact to be taken into account about this NWC meeting:
President Jacob Zuma was not present.
According to a statement issued by the Presidency at 11:54 on Sunday night, Zuma had arrived in Mbabane, Swaziland for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state summit being held on 30-31 August. The Presidency said Zuma would attend the SADC Organ Troika summit on Monday 29 August, which was when the ANC NWC met. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa would also be attending the SADC and Organ Troika summits, the Presidency said, meaning that he was also not at the NWC.
So while the NWC statement pronounced on the matter on behalf of the entire ANC, it should be borne in mind that Zuma was not party to the discussion. Mantashe probably had the first and last word at the NWC meeting, and was therefore more confident about articulating the outcome at Tuesday’s briefing. It was quite unlike the media briefing after the last NEC meeting when Mantashe appeared unsure of his own words – mostly because Zuma had the last word at that post elections NEC meeting and undercut most of the discussions that took place over four days.
Mantashe said the ANC echoed “the sentiments expressed by both the President and Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa on the undesirability of clusters of government seemingly being ‘at war’ with themselves”.
This is in fact what Ramaphosa said at the funeral of ANC veteran Makhenkesi Stofile last week. Ramaphosa’s exact words were:
“The minister of finance is today facing what could be an arrest. It should concern us. When the government works well, it should not be a government that wages a war against itself.”
Ramaphosa went further to say:
“I am here to pledge my total support to the minister of finance.”
Zuma has yet to speak publicly on the matter but a statement from his office on Thursday, which said he did not have the powers to stop investigations, expressed his “full support and confidence in the minister of finance”.
So Pravin Gordhan should be feeling pretty confident right now, with the president, deputy president and the ANC NWC all giving him backing. The problem is that these statements do not magically stop the campaign being waged against him. It is also unlikely that Duarte and the coterie of Gupta defenders would have a change of heart as a result of the NWC statement. If anything, it will heighten the tensions that were obvious from Mantashe’s skirting around Duarte’s comments.
One person who has been silent on the Hawks’ investigation has been the Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Nhleko. Daily Maverick understands that Nhleko has been meeting with members of the Crimes Against The State (CATS) unit that has been investigating Gordhan and former SARS officials. While Zuma claims he has no involvement in the investigation, what interest does the Police Minister have in the matter?
Regarding the continuing battles between several state-owned enterprises and the National Treasury, Mantashe said there should be an urgent meeting between the ministries of public enterprises, finance and energy to resolve the issues. On Tuesday night, another state-owned company, Denel, took aim at Gordhan and the Treasury, and denied that it was “captured by the Guptas”. Denel said threatened court action by the Treasury to stop the Denel Asia joint venture was “political, sheer opportunism and grandstanding”.
“A progressive National Treasury and Minister of Finance will not waste taxpayers’ money by engaging in fruitless and unconstitutional litigation against another organ of state to hide their failure to respond timeously to business challenges of state-owned companies,” the arms manufacturer said in a rather overreaching statement.
This came after a day of crossfire between the Treasury and Eskom on Monday, and Eskom’s undertaking on Tuesday to finally deliver documents pertaining to coal contracts with the Gupta-owned Tegeta Resources following intervention from Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown.
While Gordhan appears to have political backing on paper, he continues to fight for his survival with shadowy figures that have vested interests in his downfall. When he has been asked about the issue of political support, Gordhan’s response was that the test of support is his remaining in his job. His destiny is, of course, also dependent on whether the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) takes a decision to charge him.
It is now a matter of what comes first – the NPA decision or Zuma’s much anticipated Cabinet reshuffle. Until then, the axe remains dangling and Gordhan’s enemies remain circling. DM
Photo: South Africa’s President and leader of the ruling ANC party Jacob Zuma (C) greets his supporters as he arrives for the launch of his party’s election manifesto at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit January 11, 2014. REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle