Since Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was recalled from his investor road show in the UK, there has been a radio silence from President Jacob Zuma, the man responsible for the recall. All we have heard thus far has been a terse statement confirming that the president had indeed recalled Gordhan from the trip.
One can only imagine how foreign investors in both London and New York interpreted this news. Today Bloomberg’s editorial read, “South Africa’s patience is running out”. It is a scathing indictment on what it calls President Zuma’s “almost eight years of misrule”.
Yesterday at former ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral, former President Kgalema Motlanthe delivered a eulogy that was deeply critical of Zuma, the state of the ANC and the corruption that is now endemic within the state.
Motlanthe did not hold back and the support for Gordhan, who was present, was clearly overwhelming. One wonders whether Zuma, who did not attend the funeral, felt any level of shame or indeed the chill at being outside the tent? It’s hard to tell.
Here is a president who, after all, is perfectly prepared to risk the country’s future through one reckless act simply to save himself and his corrupt cronies.
Zuma and his cronies talk about ‘radical economic transformation’ yet he has done whatever possible to undermine the rule of law (upon which any successful transformation must be built) and the economy itself.
We are still recovering from Zuma’s disastrous decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene, then Finance Minister, in 2015. No reasons were given for that act of folly. Since Zuma was forced to appoint Gordhan thereafter he has been determined to make Gordhan’s position virtually untenable.
He has used the institutions of state like the Hawks who brought trumped up charges against Gordhan last year - an open act of intimidation.
But apart from Motlanthe’s charged eulogy and the accompanying political drama of the funeral, there was simply silence from Zuma. All the while the sycophantic ANN7 was running its own version of fake news by declaring that Gordhan had resigned. That was not so.
While the country waits on tenterhooks for any sign regarding Gordhan’s position, it was the South African Communist Party (SACP) who threw down the gauntlet today. Its secretary-general Blade Nzimande made a fiery speech at the Kathrada funeral too, but today it fell on second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila to speak to the press. If the President wasn’t going to do so, the SACP would.
It exposed Zuma’s sense of desperation and craftily pre-empted anything he may say later about the events of the past days. Mapaila was deeply critical of Zuma and what he called the “growing abuse of state security organs and the meddling in daily political life in the country”. While he stopped short of calling for Zuma’s recall (that was indeed strange), he did say the Guptas’ citizenship should be revoked.
Incidentally, GCIS announced that it would release a media ‘statement’ on the ‘resolutions’ of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. At the time of writing that statement has not been released yet.
Mapaila detailed the meeting Zuma had called with the SACP as its alliance partner. He confirmed media speculation that Zuma had recalled Gordhan after an intelligence report (so-called ‘Operation Checkmate’) that said that Gordhan and Jonas were plotting against Zuma. Parts of the report have been leaked on social media and it is somewhat disconcerting that the President of the Republic would rely on so amateurish a document to fire a senior minister of his Cabinet.
But then we know that Zuma is in thrall to his Security Minister David Mahlobo who peddles thick and fast in conspiracy theories regarding ‘uBaba’s safety’. It’s come to this.
But perhaps any pretext would do to fire Gordhan? After all, he and Jonas stand as the bulwark against Zuma and his cronies’ complete capture of the state. As the silence continues, rumours abound that several Cabinet ministers have privately expressed their support for Gordhan and that they may well resign should Gordhan be fired.
This is, of course, mere speculation but there are two things that are clear right now.
Firstly, it is that Zuma is not all-powerful. Had he been he would have wielded the axe on Monday and he would have already made the announcement firing Gordhan. Secondly, Kathrada’s funeral has exercised the mind of many, not only in the broader alliance, but also within the ANC in particular.
Today, the ANC parliamentary chief whip Jackson Mthembu posted a picture on Twitter of himself and Gordhan captioned, ‘our friend, our leader, our comrade, our capable, dedicated Minister of Finance.’
President Zuma, like Caesar ahead of his crossing the Rubicon, must weigh up whether he is prepared to unleash the consequences of his actions should he fire Gordhan.
What if there is a Cabinet rebellion? What if Parliament calls for a motion of no confidence against him? In terms of s102 of the Constitution a ‘majority’ of MPs is what is needed. Can he survive that this time with so much conflicting loyalty within his own party? Would he be able to call on the support of business again should the economy flounder on the back of such recklessness?
And what of the ‘Top Six’? It is so that they are predictably divided and one wonders what it would take for them to break ranks? And could that lead to a split in the party when it desperately seeks unity? And could Gordhan’s firing potentially split the tripartite alliance?
There are so many questions with so few answers and only feverish speculation to go by at present. The pendulum is swinging, taking us all along with it.
The Bloomberg editorial board is right. Our patience is running out. This is no way to run a country with a President holding us all hostage to his own whim. If the ANC were not in the pathetic state it is, it would have recalled Zuma for his careless disregard for the wellbeing of the country and for breaching the sacred pact between citizens and their elected leaders.
When Caesar crossed the Rubicon he is alleged to have uttered the famous words, “The die is cast”.
One feels the die could also be cast for Zuma should he do the unthinkable - again. Or at least it should be.
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february