Why Gordhan is the best guy to help Ramaphosa heal SA
Fix the institutions and it becomes harder for them to be captured again. To do that, Cyril needs Pravin
SA’s politics move like mercury. They fragment and then join up again, not always with the same bits. They are always moving, and what happened before is of no consequence. Our politics is existential. All that matters is the moment.
On Tuesday former home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba finally bowed to the inevitable and resigned. On Wednesday former finance minister and now public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan was due to be “interviewed” by the public protector, who holds a candle for former president Jacob Zuma. In the not too distant future the public protector may lose her job because she undertook a spurious probe into Absa’s rescue decades ago of Bankorp and crossed a constitutional line by trying to re-engineer the Reserve Bank's mandate.
Meanwhile, the EFF is behaving ever more like a faction of the ANC out of which it originally emerged. Put another way, the EFF and Zuma (or Zupta) faction of the ANC appear to have not only the same agenda (pulling down President Cyril Ramaphosa) but also the same idea about how to do it.
The primary strategy seems to be to nail Gordhan. Somehow he has to be brought down and, once he is, Ramaphosa will be exposed and weakened, goes the thinking. It is Gordhan who is giving substance to Ramaphosa’s pledge to clean up the state. That is why the Zuptas and the EFF want him gone.
But it is hard to describe what a terrier Gordhan is. He will not stop clearing away the rot in state-owned enterprises and he will not stop trying to get back the money the country lost to state capture. He is a national treasure.
But try to imagine what it must be like to be him. Not a day goes by when he is not assailed, on social media, in parliament, probably on his phone, in the media, by people who want him gone. Or by their agents. He has a family and the language used against him is always violent and always racist and always threatening. He doesn’t have a million bodyguards. The most I’ve seen him with is two.
On October 11 2016 the former national director of public prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams, announced that he was going to charge Gordhan, among others, for approving an early retirement package for Ivan Pillay, then a deputy commissioner at the SA Revenue Service. It was a perfectly legal thing to do, but Abrahams believed, as a Zupta agent, he’d found a way to push Gordhan out of the Treasury.
Follow the sequence here. Three days later, on October 14, former public protector Thuli Madonsela completes her term of office and leaves, her report on state capture and Zuma’s role in it on her desk, later to trigger the Zondo commission, which is now under way.
A few weeks later, on October 31, Abrahams realises he doesn’t have a case and announces he is withdrawing all charges against Gordhan. By that stage the new public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwabane, has been in office for a fortnight. But it is only after Abrahams withdraws the charges that a Zupta sleeper in then deputy president Ramaphosa's office, Lebogang Hoveka, a “speechwriter”, is gripped by his conscience and asks Mkhwabane to examine the charges Abrahams has just dropped.
Nothing happens for a while. In fact there seems little need because in March 2017 Gordhan is removed from office by Zuma and loses the wherewithal to pursue the bad guys. But in February 2018 Ramaphosa, now president, reappoints him to cabinet to clean up the state-owned enterprises. And that’s when the public protector quietly reaches into her files for the Hoveka complaint and begins to write to Gordhan asking him please to help her inquiries into the Pillay pension affair.
That’s how blatant this all is. The thieves and capturists hate Gordhan with a passion. We should all hope he has the fortitude to press on with his job and get it done. We would be diminished without him.
And while Gordhan is put through ordeal after ordeal by his enemies, the one man who needs him the most, Ramaphosa, has been quiet. This has led to a host of rumours in the past week that the two men have split. That Ramaphosa is throwing him under the bus. That the president sees Gordhan as a divisive figure, splitting rather than uniting the party.
But the rumours don’t make sense. First, Gordhan’s loyalty to Ramaphosa is beyond doubt. Second, if he thought for one second that Ramaphosa didn’t want him around he’d drop everything and walk away. He’s that kind of guy.
And Ramaphosa has nothing to gain by losing Gordhan. The party is already divided, probably beyond repair. And as the 2019 elections approach the EFF will do more to try to lever off a slice of the ANC to itself. That’s politics.
But it won’t be easy for them unless Ramaphosa caves in and allows the cracks to widen. He knows, as would any ethical leader, that he has no choice now but to focus on fixing the state. Fix the institutions and it becomes harder for them to be captured again. That’s the solution. And the best man to help him do that is Pravin Gordhan.
Peter Bruce is a former editor of Business Day and Financial Mail.