Since his re-appointment as Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan has fended off repeated attacks. Speculation is rife as to how his ultimate demise will play out, most likely at the extended hand of President Jacob Zuma. But Gordhan has so far managed to keep Treasury afloat, simultaneously positioning himself as the people’s minister, severely hindering attempts to remove.
Gordhan had barely settled back into his old post when the attacks started. Sars, Gordhan’s former home, the Hawks and NPA teamed up in the first major assault. Distracting warning statements from the Hawks coupled with an overly confident announcement of criminal charges by the NPA head however failed to rattle him. His tenacity lead to an embarrassing withdrawal of said criminal charges resulting in Shaun Abrahams compromising his own position. The infamous Gupta family is also trying to corner him, but here, litigation initiated by Gordhan seems have given him the upper hand.
So far it would seem our president has not won a single round. But take note, Zuma is a stamina fighter. His master plan to oust the Finance Minister has now, given recent events, become as clear as daylight. It started, as many things do with our president, in KwaZulu-Natal.
Following a tough political year, Zuma returned home in December to recover and regain some sound political footing. This was not the first time South Africans heard the phrase ‘radical economic transformation’. But it is where Zuma tested his version of it – in front of his most loyal.
“If the president takes another decision, are we ready? Are we alert?” Zuma asked when speaking about Nhlanhla Nene’s removal, adding, “any president is not going to tell you why I took this decision (remove a minister) because you don’t have to explain.” Applause from the audience was all he needed to launch his assault. Zuma knew if he could sell it to a group of people that believes everything he says, he could sell it to sceptical electorate.
The soldiers were deployed and one by one the accusations came out. Gordhan has been described as a defender of white monopoly capital. There are also calls to replace him with someone who will accelerate ‘radical economic transformation’ as opposed to obstructing it. The ANC Youth League never fails to expose the agenda.
Thanks to a concerning lack of subtlety, the structure most recently called for Gordhan to be axed. When Zuma asks the ANCYL to drive a narrative, the response is a firm: ‘yes sir, they will never know it came from you’. “Treasury was created to protect white monopoly capital”; “the new minister will be decided by the president” – as if the ANCYL fails to understand why the finance minister should be removed, it merely parrots statements that sound as if they were prepared by someone else. A ‘tell us what to say and we’ll shout it at every corner’ situation.
But Zuma won’t leave the fate of Treasury in the hands of someone like Collen Maine. It is his master plan after all.
The president’s most direct attack came during the ANC’s recent three day lekgotla. According to a report in Business Day, Zuma accused Treasury of withholding funds from departments for important projects. But the question remains, what happens when he acts on his ‘concerns’ over the incumbents in the finance ministry?
The clearest indication that changes are looming in Treasury was Parliament’s confirmation that former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe is to be sworn in as an MP. This incidentally came on the same day as the ANCYL’s calls for a new finance minister. Here it becomes rather difficult for Zuma to manoeuvre.
Molefe has served in Treasury previously, he has lead the Public Investment Corporation and served as CEO of Transnet, all of which indicate, he is in line for more than a simple seath in parliament. But the private sector, and in fact the South African public will not react kindly to Gordhan’s sudden removal. The president therefore has two options.
He could push Molefe through parliament quickly and replace Gordhan with a man who claims he is more interested in frequenting a make-believe shebeen in Saxonwold than the Guptas’ wealth in the same neighbourhood. But this would most certainly be coupled with severe political costs to Zuma. Alternatively he could target Gordhan’s deputy, Mcebisi Jonas who publically announced he was offered Nene’s post by the Gupta family. Deputy ministers hold very little official executive power and are often mere political pawns. They serve as rewards for political fealty by another party after an election, or can be used to wage a political war.
Jonas is disposable, and by replacing him with Molefe, Zuma can pit the two against each other, stifling Treasury’s ability to manage South Africa’s public purse, and by extension question Gordhan’s ability.
Zuma was not lying when he told parliament ‘radical economic transformation’ is not just political rhetoric, but a serious project. While none of this will lead to any economic transformation, the program most certainly serves as a veil for some radical changes to come. Regardless of the means to Zuma’s endgame – to control the public purse – you can bet the Rand’s recent success will be short lived.