POLITICS

Gordhan Watch: 5 Things We Know

The fate of both the finance minister and South Africa's economy hangs in the balance.

30/03/2017 05:49 SAST | Updated 30/03/2017 12:43 SAST

The minister

On Tuesday, Minister of Pravin Gordhan dared President Jacob Zuma to fire him, hoping that the public would rally around him and National Treasury. The support he subsequently received on Wednesday at the funeral of Ahmed Kathrada, the late Rivonia Trialist and activist, surely was beyond anything he could have imagined. After former President Kgalema Motlanthe's rousing oratory — in which he repeated Kathrada's call on Zuma to bite the bullet and resign — Gordhan was asked to stand up so that the assembled mourners could cheer him. And cheer him they did, with some Cabinet ministers joining in, forcing him to put his handkerchief to his eyes to keep some steely semblance of resolve. It was a massive political moment, during which the great and the good of the African National Congress (ANC) rallied around "Comrade PG", as he was referred to. But Zuma, alone at the Union Buildings while the rest of his Cabinet was attending the funeral, would have been watching.

The Cabinet

Nhlanhla Nene was fired as minister of finance one standard, boring Wednesday after the final Cabinet meeting of the year. He was on his way to the gym in Pretoria when he received a phone call to report to the president's office at the Union Buildings, which he had just left. He was promptly fired after he got there. Nobody saw that coming. Wednesday's Cabinet meeting lasted until after 18:00 — and there was no word on Gordhan's future. But senior officials at Treasury waited on their boss returning to the office after dark. And the mood was more ebullient than 24 hours earlier.

The president

The president is determined to rid himself of Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas, the deputy minister of finance. He apparently told the top six leadership that he will remove those two and replace them with former Eskom CEO-turned MP Brian Molefe. It seems there was no appetite for that, and according to Bloomberg, an agreement was reached that he will come back to the leadership with other options when the ANC's national working committee has their regular meeting on Monday April 3. The pushback since Tuesday — Gordhan's public appearances, Treasury's statement, the top six's reticence and especially the Kathrada funeral — has thwarted Zuma. But it might be temporary. He is calculated and he has specific interests to serve. He'll find a way.

The ANC

The Kathrada funeral has shown up the governing party as adrift: bereft of leadership, seemingly lacking moral fibre and beholden to a president apparently gone rogue. Cyril Ramaphosa (deputy president of both party and country) and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe speak in code, berate in parable and tow the party line. Yes, both are shrewd political operators: Ramaphosa after all guided the ANC in the constitutional negotiations, while Mantashe has survived the snake-pit that is the executive floor at Luthuli House. But if ever there was a fight to pick — or just, at the very least, get involved in — it is this one. Ramaphosa's people say the "DP" (short for deputy president) is "engaged". Mantashe operates on the ground. But this fight needs commanders, not shrinking violets.

The Gupta's #FakeNews channel

Look, ANN7 — on DStv channel 405 — is good value for money. If ever there was a post-1994 propaganda institution, it's the team producing the news at ANN7 and The New Age's offices in Midrand. After screaming (and very busy) graphics announced on Tuesday that a Cabinet reshuffle with Gordhan as the main victim is imminent, they outdid themselves with their coverage on Wednesday. According to the Guptas, the Kathrada funeral was upset by an ANC "faction" which disrupted the event. Well then, the Kathrada Foundation will have to distance themselves from Motlanthe and Gordhan then — as well as all the mourners. We look forward to Thursday's reports.

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