The South African Communist Party (SACP) says the party was informed by President Jacob Zuma of his intention to axe Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, and the party disagreed with the move.
Speaking at a briefing on Thursday morning at their headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said that the SACP was forced to go public with the otherwise confidential discussion because of "selective leaks".
"Certain unfortunate events have taken place, placing the SACP in an untenable situation wherein it is called publicly to set the record straight regarding confidential discussions," said Mapaila. "There have been factional and selective leaking of our discussions breaching the confidentially that accompanies such."
Mapaila said the leaks created the impression that the SACP agreed with the reshuffle, which was not the case.
Governance, and clean governance in particular, has become a critical pillar of the national democratic revolution...
"The SACP wishes to state that, as is the norm, the president informed us of his intention to effect a Cabinet reshuffle, replacing both the minister and deputy ministers of finance. We recorded our objection to the intended reshuffle."
He added that the party disagreed with a situation where public office bearers and officials cannot discharge their responsibilities "without fear or favour".
Mapaila also had high praise for Gordhan. "Comrade Pravin has run that ministry with absolute cleanliness. That is what has impressed us: it is one of the best-run departments. Other ministries should be emulating it. For us as the SACP governance, and clean governance in particular, has become a critical pillar of the national democratic revolution at this current period."
Mapaila added that the party was unhappy with how the situation with Gordhan had been handled.
"We object to the removal of the comrades as well as the intended replacements," he said, responding to a question, emphasising that the reasons given were found wanting.
The discussion took place at one of several "bilateral meetings" between the SACP and the ANC, who are in a increasingly fragile "ruling alliance" together with trade federation Cosatu. Mapaila discussed concerns about the alliance. He said despite the SACP's concerns, their members had not taken a decision to withdraw from Zuma's cabinet as SACP members, though they may do so as ANC members.
SACP ministers in Zuma's cabinet include Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, and Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies.
Mapaila said there had been "three official bilateral discussions since last year" and that the discussion continued on Monday.
The party also referenced its upcoming national imbizo "within this context" and announced that it would be held on April 22-24. Mapaila extended an invitation "to all progressive organisations both political and non-political". The veterans of the movement were specifically mentioned.
The imbizo could be one of many moves that are seeing various forces come together in increasing opposition to Zuma following a pivotal moment of resistance at the funeral of struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada on Wednesday, the day before.
There were plenty of hints around dissatisfaction with Zuma and his leadership, including a heavy-hitting speech by Nzimande, general secretary of the South African Communist Party.
But former president Kgalema Motlanthe's eulogy contained the most hard-hitting criticisms of Zuma, using Kathrada's own words calling for Zuma to step down to thunderous applause — including from his own ministers.
Rumours that Zuma was about to reshuffle his Cabinet, specifically removing Gordhan from his post, have being doing the rounds for well over a year.
Curious charges hung over Gordhan's head for months, until they were finally dropped in October last year, leading to rumours that the charges were trumped up to be used by Zuma as a premise for sacking the finance minister.
But the speculation reached fever pitch on Monday when Zuma instructed Gordhan to return home from an investor roadshow.
On Tuesday, Business Day quoted three sources who claimed that Zuma had told the South African Communist Party that he planned to fire Gordhan.
But speculation then turned to the possibility that Zuma might not make the announcement because of the sudden death of struggle hero Ahmed Kathrada, who died in the early hours of Monday morning.
An announcement was again expected after Wednesday afternoon's Cabinet meeting following the funeral, but the routine media briefing after the Cabinet meeting was turned into a promised statement which has yet to materialise.
In February, speculation revved up a notch when former Eskom boss, Brian Molefe was suddenly parachuted into Parliament at an MP. It was widely rumoured that this was a precursor to his eventual ascendency to the finance ministry, as either minister or deputy minister.
So far, Zuma has said little to quell fears, with the exception of a brief comment here. He denied the rumours in a light-hearted comment he gave to eNCA on the sidelines of an investor lunch in February.
"I don't know.. since last year this speculation [about a Cabinet reshuffle] has been there, [but] it has never happened, just forget... I will tell you when I need to tell you," Zuma told eNCA, and joked that he would "put it on Twitter".
[VIDEO] President Zuma gets asked about cabinet reshuffles by a journalist... Take a listen to his answer... pic.twitter.com/pu5sCVvpZH
— eNCA (@eNCA) February 7, 2017
In September last year, the presidency issued a statement denying that a Cabinet reshuffle was imminent. This was prompted by a list of possible Cabinet appointments that circulated on social media.
The list made no mention of the finance ministry, but speculated that, amongst other appointments, Des Van Rooyen would take over the Ministry of Economic Development. MP Pule Mabe was rumoured to become deputy to Lindiwe Zulu at the Small Business Development Department.
There were also rumours that Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom would lose his job after he and other ministers called on Zuma to step down in November last year during a heated NEC meeting. Hanekom later said the rumours did not bother him.