South Africa


Gordhan and Ramaphosa will need a serious legal effort to overcome Mkhwebane’s clumsy scattergun approach

Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and Pravin Gordhan. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Daylin Paul)

President Cyril Ramaphosa may have missed a political trick when he appointed his Cabinet after the May 8 elections. He could have moved Pravin Gordhan to a more strategic role, such as the head of a state owned-companies council. That would have saved Gordhan from much of the weapons now trained on him — from the so-called advocate with a misfiring scattergun to the Gucci Teletubbies. Hindsight is such a wonderful tool, isn’t it?

The anti-Gordhan brigade is smelling blood as the man who helped rescue Ramaphosa’s political ambitions not so long ago is dangling tenuously on the prickly mess that is Public Enterprises — with no visible defence or support coming from his boss and colleagues.

Mind you, Gordhan provided cover for Ramaphosa when the minister took on the Zupta gang and became the poster figure for ethical and upright leadership, thereby creating a bandwagon for Ramaphosa to jump on along the way to Nasrec.

It is not difficult to see why the Teletubbies have all their arrows trained on Gordhan. They are friends of the criminal underworld. They don’t mind being associated with the kind that chiselled all respectability from all layers of the excellent machinery that was once the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

They feel Gordhan is the ringleader of a pro-market group with links to the Stellenbosch mafia (as if that is a crime if it was vaguely true). If Gordhan is emasculated, politically speaking, they feel the likes of Edward Kieswetter, the boss at SARS, will not have the courage and stamina to give the revenue-collection service the might it once had. The other fear is that Ivan Pillay, or someone like him, would be hired at SARS and unleash a feisty wave of attacks at the illicit economy kings and other scumbags in the criminal underworld.

It is not difficult to spin the anti-Gordhan yarn if you are EFF-like: Strong on conspiracy and weak on interrogation, but very hard to quell, like most political conspiracies. It’s like refuting the question: Do you still beat up your wife? There are a number of reasons Gordhan is in the corner. They include race and racism as well as Gordhan’s own political image.

The EFF has been consistent in banging the drum about the subjugation of “Africans” by “Indians” as a legacy of the apartheid construct of racial hierarchy in South Africa. Wealth trends, including income inequality, still place the Indian in a position of authority in many social and economic arrangements. As a result, one needs to generally cry “Indians” and the race-conscious mob thinks it is under siege. The EFF is excellent at this.

Also, inside Gordhan’s party, race and racism are not issues many talk about openly or genuinely. It is dealt with mainly in terms of relations in society and in the context of the quest for economic parity along racial lines.

The ANC no longer pays even lip service to the concept of non-racialism. It has since abandoned it, like many values it used as contours of a powerful struggle against white minority rule and colonialism. Well, non-racialism was not a natural value in the ANC anyway. It picked it along the way, having resisted and blocked the participation of whites — in fact, anyone who was not black — in the anti-apartheid movement. It allowed whites to join the party in 1969 and allowed them to serve in key structures such as the national executive committee only in 1985. And it quickly ditched it once it got hold of political power as that required juggling a few balls, including managing the patronage bounty.

In a “democratic country”, perplexingly, many still wonder why or how it came about that Gordhan became the poster boy of the fight against Zuma: The Prince of Nkandla in this case being a metaphor for ruinous economic management, corruption and all the negative aspects of our public lives. They also feel that Gordhan has undue influence or even control of the New Dawn — not necessarily the man at the Union Buildings — and the network of players that influence power and politics in South Africa. Because of the reality that Gordhan is seen as the man at the centre of the spider web that is a combination of myths and “meandos”, to borrow but one word from the JZ Dictionary.

The so-called advocate’s bullet casings add smoke for the mirrors and is a pawn for the skilful rabble-rousing politicians who see Gordhan’s current battles with the Public Protector as an opportunity to clip his connection to Ramaphosa so that they can have better access to the Union Buildings and the patronage machinery.

For example, Gordhan has a strong grip on the key state-owned enterprises. And this will not make David Mabuza comfortable. After all, “The Cat” is on paper the man who controls all deployment in the ANC. Every time Gordhan is seen in public as the man who rules the roost, it is at the expense of Mabuza, the deputy president who may well wish to appoint his own preferred people or have a bigger say in the running of the boards of these companies.

Gordhan’s boss is no position to jump in and defend the minister. One, he has Mkhwebane problems of his own. Two, it is not like him to jump in when an inferno is gathering momentum.

An early intervention will set him up against certain sections of his base, including the ethnic-nationalists and patronage-based coalitions. Until then, the Mkhwebanes, the EFF and the DA and the ethnic-nationalist laggards will carry on feasting on the broader New Dawn — which shouldn’t be just one man’s dream — and our goal to create a just and prosperous society. The political class will always exploit our raw nerves and even exploit our blind spots as a nation if we deserve to be called that.

Ramaphosa has problems of his own to contend with. It’s not fair to use his difficult political situation, which makes him move like a man in iron casts. It is also our collective failure to forge a shared identity in the aftermath of apartheid. And the dalliance with the rabble-rousing elements in our society without much interrogation of the words that pass their gold teeth and Louis Vuitton lip glosses allows the peddlers of disinformation plenty of time to obstruct change, mixing up truth and myth in hypnosis-inducing moves meant to provide cover for more thieving.

It will take a serious legal effort for both Gordhan and Ramaphosa to win against Mkhwebane’s clumsy scattergun approach. She fires blindly and wildly in the hope that one bullet will land a fatal blow. While this battle rages, institutional reform will be seriously hampered. You have to wonder what race will suffer the most in that case. DM


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