President Jacob Zuma and Pravin Gordhan met for the last time at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Gordhan and other ministers had gone to the meeting after the Kathrada’s funeral. While there was carping from Zuma’s acolytes in Cabinet about what had transpired at the funeral, there was no indication from the president that he watched or was aware of the eruption of negative sentiment against him.
But by then, the wheels were already in motion for the midnight massacre. The challenge he faced on Monday at the ANC’s meeting with the South African Communist Party, and then from the ANC officials, had backed Zuma into a corner. The SACP delegation, as well as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, all voiced their opposition to the firing of Gordhan and Jonas. And they rejected Zuma’s bogus intelligence report that claimed that Gordhan, Jonas and National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile were colluding with individuals abroad to overthrow the state.
This was the first time Zuma’s faced internal resistance to his authority, particularly from his fellow top six officials. So when he called the officials to a meeting on Thursday evening, he knew there would not be consent for his purge, apart from Jessie Duarte, the ANC deputy secretary general and fellow flunky of the Gupta family. The ANC national chairperson, Baleka Mbete, could not attend as she is out of the country. So, for the first time, an ANC president acted in defiance of the organisation.
The fact that Mantashe and Ramaphosa publicly confirmed their opposition to the president’s decision to fire Gordhan and Jonas, and outed his fake intelligence report, means the split in the ANC top six is now out in the open. It means that they will also not back the president in any other structure where the matter is discussed.
The question now is what can be done.
With the ANC confronted with a massive public backlash in the wake of Zuma’s reshuffle, particularly after dissent from the top officials, it should call a special meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) to discuss the matter. Part of Zuma’s stealth manoeuvre was to effect the changes to Cabinet just days after an NEC meeting, and the next gathering is only set to take place in two months.
Special NEC meetings are called by the top six officials or the national working committee, but with deep splits in these structures, there is unlikely to be agreement on convening it. Zuma and his allies would want to avoid the matter being discussed at the NEC as there is likely to be another move to unseat him, as was the case in November.
So in the absence of the ANC being able to act against Zuma, or even discuss the matter, the focus shifts to Parliament.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have both tabled requests in Parliament for a motion of no confidence in the president. Parliament has responded that the Speaker would apply her mind to the matter. Mbete is set to return to South Africa from Bangladesh on April 6, and would then have to consider whether to call a special sitting as Parliament is on a break until May 3. Mbete has been firmly in Zuma’s corner but could shift if she sees him as cumbersome to her own presidential ambitions.
The EFF has threatened to take Mbete to court if she does not call a sitting to debate the motion. Should the matter be placed on hold till May, the National Treasury could be fully commandeered by the Gupta family through their new appointees in the ministry, Malusi Gigaba and Sfiso Buthelezi.
The question is what would happen if the no confidence debate were to be scheduled. Previous opposition motions of no confidence failed because the ANC voted solidly against them.
But Zuma’s decision to act in defiance of the ANC officials and fire Gordhan and Jonas, while retaining the under-performers in Cabinet, could see a different outcome. Already ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu has come out in support of Gordhan and Jonas, tweeting:
“I disagree with the removal of Gordhan and Jonas based on a suspect intelligence report. Their committment to the NDR is unquestionable.”
“Pravin & Jonas will never sell their soul and country to foreign forces. That is plain rubbish. Their crime is their incorruptibility.”
“Their other crime is defence and protection of our public purse with highest levels of integrity and morality. We stand with them.”
Gordhan and Jonas have indicated that they will remain MPs, as has the former Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom. When Gordhan was asked at a valedictory media briefing at the National Treasury how he would vote in a motion of no confidence, he replied that he would be guided by his conscience and “do the right thing”.
The DA and EFF are lobbying ANC MPs to do precisely that – do the right thing. The ANC caucus receives direction from the secretary-general but it is not clear what the line of march would be from Mantashe on this matter. The caucus would clearly be divided so it might come down to individuals to vote according to their conscience.
The motion requires 70 members of the ANC caucus to vote with the opposition to pass. A statement issued by the SACP Politburo on Friday night, calling on Zuma to resign, was therefore significant.
The statement said that the SACP found it “frankly outrageous” that Gordhan, Jonas and other well-performing ministers were axed “while the worst performers in cabinet continue to enjoy presidential protection and even, in some cases, promotion”.
“This recklessness has provoked widespread concern and anger within the ANC itself, and across all sectors of our society. We have reached a decisive moment in which, in the considered view of the SACP leadership, Zuma must now resign.”
While Gordhan and Jonas were nuanced about the reasons for their firing and what was at stake, asking South Africans to “connect the dots”, the SACP was more blunt.
“The coincidence of the dramatic cabinet events with the desperate application this week in the Pretoria High Court by the Gupta-linked Vardospan company should not be missed… The current owners had given them a deadline of today, 31 March, to settle the matter. Vardospan’s desperation is clearly linked to the closure of Gupta-related bank accounts by the major South African banks, the Bank of China, and now reportedly by their last remaining banking facility, the Indian headquartered Baroda Bank,” the SACP said.
“The timing of Zuma’s cabinet reshuffling and the deepening banking troubles faced by the Guptas is not, therefore, fortuitous. Once more it lays bare a disturbing reality. Increasingly our country is being ruled not from the Union Buildings, but from the Gupta family compound. More and more, critical ANC decisions are being decided not by elected and collective structures in Luthuli House but in Saxonwold.”
The SACP went beyond just calling for Zuma’s resignation, announcing that they would be meeting in this regard with their provincial structures, alliance partners and a wide range of social movements and formations.
“It is imperative that popular anger is mobilised and organised in constructive ways that unite South Africans of all persuasions and backgrounds in the defence of our country’s interests.”
This mobilisation means that the SACP would likely cooperate with the Save South Africa campaign and other civil society organisations in public protests against Zuma. It is unlikely that the SACP would mobilise against Zuma in the streets and not vote against him in Parliament.
If Zuma underestimated the consequences of his actions on Thursday night, he was certainly aware of the momentum building against him on Friday. The arbitrary and callous decision to cancel the state memorial service for the late struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada on Saturday exposed the presidency’s fears that the event could turn out to be an anti-Zuma rally.
But all the cancellation did was fuel public anger.
It prompted Barbara Hogan, an ANC stalwart herself and Kathrada’s widow, to come out of mourning to address a media briefing. She said she was “incredibly angered” by the disrespect shown by the president and condemned the Cabinet reshuffle as a “dastardly deed done in a dark corner”.
“Surely they could have held off‚ just a while‚ out of respect for Kathy,” she said.
Hogan said the country was facing “a defining moment” and called for a “broad political coalition” to force Zuma to step down.
Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Neeshan Balton said ministers and leaders of the ANC who care about the future of democracy and the Constitution should speak up and call on the president to step down.
“We call on all Members of Parliament to unite and support a motion of no confidence,” he said.
The Kathrada and Nelson Mandela Foundations, together with the SACP in Gauteng, are hosting a memorial service at the Johannesburg City Hall on Saturday afternoon, at which Gordhan will speak. While a state memorial service would have been strictly controlled, Zuma’s decision to cancel it has led to what is destined to be a mass rally against him.
While the ANC is in disarray, calling on its “members and leaders to display unity of purpose at this time”, a broad revolt is brewing. Opposition to Zuma has been intensifying for some time but his move to reshuffle his Cabinet, and particularly to fire Gordhan and Jonas has provoked a rebellion in their names.
Gordhan and Jonas have become the faces of the resistance movement. Because of their integrity and refusal to be sucked into the Gupta contagion, people from across political affiliations and society have begun standing up against the president over their firing.
While public protests are essential to display mass opposition to the president, the most effective way to unseat him appears to be through a motion of no confidence in Parliament. If the motion succeeds, Zuma will be removed as president.
And what happens then?
While there appears to be a united front against Zuma, there will probably be a struggle to find consensus on who could step in as president until the 2019 elections. The candidate has to come from the ANC as the majority party. As deputy president, Ramaphosa appears to be naturally in line, but his candidacy might be challenged by the opposition, certainly by the EFF.
What is needed is a candidate that would be universally accepted and trusted with the presidency until 2019, who could root out the rot in the state, and who could provide economic and political stability. The country also needs a leader with integrity who could help unite and heal a hurting nation. To achieve our second liberation, it needs a person who would relentlessly purge the state of the Gupta stranglehold.
There is only one Member of Parliament who ticks all these boxes.
Wouldn’t that be such poetic justice and the best revenge for the evil Jacob Zuma has unleashed on South Africa? DM
Photo: South Africa’s outgoing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (R) chats with Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas during a media briefing at their offices in Pretoria, South Africa, March 31,2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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