It's not every day that your former news editor messages you tell you that you may have been the cause of a Cabinet reshuffle, a sovereign ratings downgrade, a weakened currency and general public uproar. But that's the SMS I got on Wednesday evening as I arrived home. "Seems like you're the reason Gordhan got fired. Eish," a former Mail & Guardian colleague texted me.
At a chaotic press conference on Wednesday, African National Congress secretary general Gwede Mantashe explained what exactly had transpired between President Jacob Zuma and the now-deposed finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, that prompted a Cabinet reshuffle. There had been strange reasons given -- a very dubious intelligence report, for example -- but the one he gave seemed weirdest of all. The president had apparently been very unhappy about a news article that called his minister "President Gordhan", and this partly was the reason for the breakdown in the relationship between the two.
Mantashe says a newspaper article referring to Pravin as "President Gordhan" contributed to the breakdown of Zuma/Gordhan relationship.— Scapegoat (@AndiMakinana) April 5, 2017
If you think it is bizarre for a president to make a destructive decision on the basis of petty jealousy, try to imagine what it is like to be the person who wrote an article last year for the M&G titled "Pravin for President?" (So far, I have more than 100 messages on social media. It's been quite a morning, I tell you.)
The article was entirely harmless. I merely posited that Gordhan was a perfect candidate for a renewal mission of the ANC. Many people seem to believe that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa might be this person, since he's rich and he speaks so well. But he's tainted -- there is nothing in reality to suggest that he'd be a different leader to Zuma. Crucially, I also did not give the idea that much weight. "For an organisation that has spent the past 10 years with its eyes focused squarely on its own navel, that change of perspective may prove to be too traumatic to countenance," I wrote, in conclusion.
I wrote it, and promptly forgot about it. So you can imagine my shock when the penny finally dropped.
How weak, limp-wristed and insecure is President Zuma, that a piece of political fanfic could drive him to such extremes? Should I be worried about my own personal safety now? Time to flee the country?
Thankfully, it has been pointed out that the Sunday Times ran a piece in January titled "It's 'President Gordhan' at Davos", which quoted a political analyst who said that Zuma's decision to let his finance minister lead the delegation to the World Economic Forum could fuel the perception that he's not really the person in charge of the country.
Apparently if you want to really set off our incredibly thin-skinned president, you merely tell him that people don't think he's the Big Boss. Rustle him hard enough, and he'll wipe R86 billion off the economy. Suddenly much of his haphazard presidency makes so much sense.