Looking at outgoing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan you would not think that he had just been given his marching orders. After the 16 months he’s had, he is probably used to the drama by now.
He was funny, frank and firmly in control and had a strong message for South Africa – “Our souls are not for sale” and “Our country is not for sale”.
Gordhan, and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas’ long threatened axing was confirmed through a midnight statement released by President Jacob Zuma bringing an end to months of speculation about the pending reshuffle. Thirteen other ministers and deputy minister were also fired.
But Gordhan and Jonas have not gone quietly and at a media briefing on Friday laid bare the “absolutely nonsense” reasons behind their removal.
Gordhan, who heard about his axing through television, said there were two issues that came to the fore on Thursday night – an intelligence report and allegations that he had met with individuals in London to plot to undermine government.
The intelligence report, which has been in the public domain since earlier this the week, claims that Gordhan, Jonas and the director-general of Treasury were part of a massive conspiracy to undermine the country.
“This report is absolute nonsense and should not be the basis on which you remove a finance minister and deputy minister,” Gordhan said.
He said the roadshow that the team – made up of the minister, deputy, captains of industry, trade unionists, business people, CEO of the Stock Exchange, the chairperson of Business Unity of SA, among others – was an ordinary roadshow that takes place yearly after the budget and medium term budgets to meet with investors, who control US$5-trillion, and rating agencies.
“Allegations that I was conducting secret meetings with individuals to undermine the government sickens me,” Gordhan said.
“I emphatically and categorically state that no such meeting took place,” he said.
Gordhan emphasised that he had not applied for the position of finance minister but was deployed because of the “blunders” of December 9 2015 when “a good hard-working man was told he was no longer required to occupy the chair (of finance minister).”
“Since then, we have been trying to reassure, very dutifully, the markets, investors and ordinary South Africans that their investments are safe,” Gordhan said, adding that December 9, 2015 had cost South Africans.
But its been a slog – the bond yield (the rate at which the country can borrow money) was still high … “we are now paying extra to borrow money” and so much more needs to be done.
Gordhan praised his deputy’s integrity for his stance when he was “offered a bag of cash” for the minister’s post.
“Our souls are not for sale,” he said to thunderous applause.
Gordhan called on South Africans to “organise” because “fragmented voices do not have the required weight” to effect change.
Jonas concurred saying it was an important time for South Africans to ask: “Is this what we envisioned for our new South Africa?” “We need to wake up and smell the coffee”.
The duo’s press conference came hours after the ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told 702 that the reshuffle made him “uncomfortable”.
Speaking to the radio station, Mantashe said a meeting was held on Monday in which the finance minister’s position was discussed.
“We left that meeting convinced that despite our input the finance minister would be removed… but we were not consulted about the rest of the reshuffle.
“We were given a list … I am of the view that the list was developed elsewhere and given to us to legitimise (it),” he said. He claimed not to know where it was developed.
Without mentioning names, Mantashe said he was concerned that there were ministers who despite not performing were retained while performing ministers were removed. “We can’t be comfortable with that,” he said.
Asked what the ANC would be doing, Mantashe said the party had internal processes (but) Zuma “knew that the ANC was not happy”.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa finally broke his silence telling reporters that Gordhan’s removal over a “dubious” intelligence report was “unacceptable” and that it reminded him of when he was accused of plotting to overthrow former President Thabo Mbeki.
But he would not resign over the move.
However, the ANC women’s and youth leagues seemed out of touch with the growing sentiment within the party saying they welcomed the reshuffle.
The ANCWL applauded “the President for being cognisant of the gender parity policy of the ANC and affirming women leadership through his decision, as he appointed 50% women ministers and 60% women deputy ministers.”
The ANCYL said it was “excited, happy, overjoyed and jubilant” adding that it “maintained, the belief that no one is above the ANC, and no one is irreplaceable”.
Officially the ANC, through its national spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, simply “noted” the reshuffle and called on its members and leaders to display unity despite having divergent views.
Kodwa said national officials would meet soon on the matter and “collectively give guidance and leadership to the organisation”.
But the opposition was outraged.
The Democratic Alliance will head to the Western Cape High Court to apply for an urgent interdict to stop Friday afternoon’s swearing in of Zuma’s new cabinet ministers and deputy ministers.
“We will be asking the court to stop the swearing in until our tabled motion of no confidence is debated,” DA leader Mmusi Maimane said, adding that they were also calling for parliament, which is in recess, to urgently reconvene next week.
Maimane said it is time that all South Africans stand together and that a March was being planned for next Friday in Johannesburg.
“ANC members are going to have to ask themselves whether they are going to put themselves or the country first. It is Parliament who hired Jacob Zuma and it is Parliament that can fire him,” he said.
Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s parliamentary chief whip has already thrown his weight behind Gordhan saying he disagreed with his and Jonas’ removal because they would “never sell their soul and country to foreign forces. That is plain rubbish. Their crime is incorruptibility”.
EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi called the reshuffle a handover of the country’s treasury to the Gupta family.
“The entire reshuffle was nothing other than a target at the Ministry of Finance. The appointment of Malusi Gigaba is a clear sign that Zuma was handing the treasury to the Gupta family, because Gigaba is a Gupta stooge,” he said.
Ndlozi said the party now challenged the SACP.
“Now that none of their party leadership has been compromised, and that their wish for their Central Committee member Ben Martins to be appointed has been fulfilled, will they still oppose the reshuffle?” he asked.
Ndlozi said the only hope is the removal of the ANC government as it had “degenerated into a personal club of Zuma, compromising the interests of the country for his personal satisfaction”.
EFF leader, Julius Malema later said the party was working on a strategy on how best remove Zuma.
“What he did last night is not in the best interest of SA. We need to put aside our political differences to ensure unity of purpose,” he said.
Malema said that motion of no confidence was not a waste of time, as “we have to try everything to save our country”.
Malema echoed Ndlozi’s call to the SACP.
Attempts to reach the SACP’s second deputy Secretary-General Solly Mapaila were unsuccessful.
The National Freedom Party considered the move so laughable that it had to be an “early April fool”.
“We believe the president will wake up early before it’s too late and redo the reshuffling which will fire first all incompetent and useless people like Bathabile Dlamini, Faith Muthambi and Blade Nzimande,” said the party’s Sabelo Sigudu.
But organised business was not laughing as the reshuffle had pummelled the rand.
According to Bloomberg’s market reports the Rand weakened as much as 2.6 percent against the dollar following Zuma’s reshuffle. Over the past week it had plunged 7.5 percent – the most of more than 140 currencies tracked by the business news agency.
Speaking to Bloomberg TV, Colin Coleman, head of sub-Saharan Africa at Goldman Sachs Group Inc, said: “Zuma has been playing Russian Roulette with our investment-grade rating through his actions.”
While Cas Coovadia, MD of the Banking Association of South Africa, said the President’s actions “created increased uncertainty and risk”.
“The specific change in both Finance Minister and Deputy Finance Minister creates a dire loss of institutional knowledge and raises legitimate and alarming concerns regarding issues of fiscal discipline‚ protection of institutions and indeed the scope [of] state capture … The actions of the President have put our country into turmoil,” he said.
Coovadia warned that any sovereign downgrade would have a serious impact on banks and the business sector in general. “It will also undermine our collective ability to fund social programmes, which will severely and sustainably worsen the lives of the poorest of the poor in our country,” he said.
In a statement the CEO Initiative said it was gravely concerned by the “ill-timed and irrational dismissal” of Gordhan.
“This decision, and the manner in which it was taken, is likely to cause severe damage to an economy that is in dire need of growth and jobs. The rationale for the removal of other ministers in key departments at a time when the country is beginning to make progress on a number of fronts is also questionable,” it said.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) expressed its outrage and appealed to all South Africans to flood the streets of Pretoria and symbolically occupy the Treasury.
“The announcement confirms our worst fears that the country has now been plunged into its biggest crisis since 1994. We now have a government with no credibility, one which has surrendered power to powerful crony capitalist factions and delivered a slap in the face of millions of South Africans.
“The main issue is not the fate of individuals but the fact that this move means that Zuma’s kleptocratic faction of the ANC is making a desperate bid to cling on to power … The thieves and looters have been given a green light to continue and increase their manipulation of government and SOE contracts to line their pockets for as long as we allow them to get away with it,” it said.
By noon on Friday scores of protestors had heeded Save SA and Section 27 calls to occupy Treasury and Parliament.
Addressing protestors outside Treasury Gordhan thanked them for their support over the year and half that they have “been under constant attack while trying to do good, honest work for all South Africans”.
Gordhan said the majority of people in the ANC believed what the protestors believe and “they will speak out on when they are ready”.
“The ANC must go back to its roots again,” he said to wild cheers. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan during a meeting with business and labour leaders at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. South Africa. 09/05/2016. Siyabulela Duda
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