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Carnage: The Anatomy Of Pravin Gordhan's Political Execution

President Jacob Zuma has exposed just how weak Cyril Ramaphosa really is.

31/03/2017 02:53 SAST | Updated 31/03/2017 17:51 SAST

President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle is nothing less than a comprehensive and total victory and an utter and complete humiliation for his opponents -- one from which they might never recover.

It confirmed how impotent Cyril Ramaphosa and Gwede Mantashe have become.

It has exposed National Treasury and the fiscus to capture, rent-seeking and looting.

And it has shown beyond any doubt that Zuma holds the African National Congress (ANC) in a vice-like grip.

By all accounts Treasury was a hive of activity Thursday.

Its headquarters at 40 Church Square in Pretoria, where the ministerial offices and those of senior officials like the director general are, was humming along while the grunts, across the road in the Madiba Street Building, were busy collating the last bits of information before the financial year for government departments end on Friday, 31 March 2017.

Staff were scurrying around, "busy like year-end at any big company," a senior official told Huffington Post South Africa. Pravin Gordhan, the minister of finance, was walking around, urging his charges to do their duty.

"He's not the type of guy that gives up. He is one soldier that will die with his boots on. He is humble, not a rebel. He's a solid guy," the official said in the afternoon.

He added: "He is urging us to do our job with the same sense of urgency and accuracy as before. He really is remarkable. He told us not to ignore the (political) noise, but that we must focus on the job at hand. It's year-end for government department. It's busy. It's the same as at any other big company finalising its books."

The din was getting louder. Gordhan might be gone. But the work at Treasury continued. "We're focused on what needs to be done. The uncle (Gordhan) is good at setting priorities and executing them."

While officials at Treasury were busy crossing the t's and dotting the i's on government's books, the executive floor at Luthuli House was buzzing. Zuma was adamant that he was going to fire Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and the rest of the leadership would just have to play ball.

There were efforts at finding a compromise candidate. Ramaphosa and Mantashe apparently already told the head of state that Brian Molefe, the former Eskom boss, Gupta associate and backbench member of parliament, was unacceptable. Word went out from the sixth floor at Luthuli House that a special meeting of the party's top six leadership was to be convened at 6.30pm.

At around 7.30pm a message was relayed from the meeting to the Ramaphosa camp saying that the "DP" (short for deputy president) was holding firm. It seemed like they may win the day and keep Gordhan in his position and Treasury safe.

But less than two hours later the picture changed dramatically. Another message went out after the meeting adjourned and the president's convoy emerged from Luthuli House's secure underground parking garage in President Street.

It was over, the message read. Things didn't work out. And it looked "bad, bad".

On the Gupta-owned news channel ANN7 the "resident political analysts" started giggling with glee. Presenter Sindi Mabe struggled to contain her excitement and the channel's garish graphics loudly announced that Malusi Gigaba would be the new minister of finance.

Mabe, with a straight face and in all seriousness asked: "Gigaba is a young lion who will, surely, drive the economy forward?"

Tshepo Kgadima, ANN7's political analyst, replied: "The 'occupy Treasury' movement, we shouldn't be worried by them, they won't be able to even fill a car. We should be worried about the caucus (in parliament) . . . will Jackson Mthembu (the ANC's chief whip) stand up and say 'everything is OK?' "

Every couple of minutes the channel interrupted its victory lap to "confirm" another dismissal or appointment: Gigaba, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Faith Muthambi. It was almost as if it had prior knowledge or privileged access.

"Pravin Gordhan was paraded as a performer (as minister)," Kgadima went on. "But he did not share the values of the organisation (the ANC) or the vision of the president. He was a non-performer."

Mzwanele Manyi carried on and said the new minister must now surely withdraw the application against the Guptas on which the court has reserved judgment.

Gigaba, ANN7 graphics screamed: "Has a clean image, is regarded as decisive, is trusted by the president and is an efficient administrator".

Kgadima: "We need to look at the Public Finance Management Act . . . consider new legislation . . . it is an impediment to development."

The graphics dovetailed with the analyst: "New finance minister's challenge: to kickstart key development projects to accelerate radical economic transformation."

A close advisor of Ramaphosa, meanwhile, was mildly and reservedly exasperated. "My worst fears confirmed. Tragic!" he messaged.

The DP and his merry band of mellow and meek men have been endlessly waiting for an opportunity to mount an offensive. Nenegate wasn't serious enough, neither was Nkandla, nor the disastrous municipal election or the public protector's "State of Capture" Report. "We know what's at stake," was their message. "The DP is strategising, planning, preparing."

As the hour of Gordhan's public execution neared, this advisor explained -– in the face of mounting evidence on ANN7 -– that all was not lost and that they would first gauge public support before deciding on their next move.

It's better to remain inside and fight the good fight there than being outside and having no influence at all, he argued: "Unless the pillars of state are destroyed, Samson-like."

He was adamant: the DP will move depending on "the depth and extent of the reaction".

The statement from the presidency dropped at exactly 12.14am , quoting Zuma as saying the changes that were made were done to "improve efficiency and effectiveness".

At a a press conference before tabling the budget last month Gordhan told the media it does matter who runs Treasury.

"Does it matter who sits in these chairs? Yes, it does matter. Because it impacts on the policies and ideas that goes to Cabinet. It takes many years to build an institution, to build confidence and trust, to build skills, culture, effectiveness, resilience. But it's very easy to break it down," he said.

Gordhan is gone. So is Jonas.

Bathabile Dlamini, the president of the ANC's women's league, is still in Cabinet. Zuma strongwoman Faith Muthambi too. Loyalist Fikile Mbalula has been rewarded with the police portfolio. The changes were made "to improve efficiency and effectiveness".

Zuma was humiliated when he was forced to backtrack on his dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister. It took him one year, three months and 22 days –- but he got his man, and now he's got Treasury.

Msholozi is now undoubtedly the strongest bull in the kraal.

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