Johannesburg – ANC and government leaders past, present and outgoing voiced their condemnation of President Jacob Zuma’s firing of Pravin Gordhan on Friday, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa rubbishing the reasons the president advanced for his decision.
Speaking to reporters in Bloemfontein, Ramaphosa confirmed that Zuma had presented the ANC’s top leaders with a list of new Cabinet appointments as a fait accompli, going against the party’s tradition of acting after consultation.
“It was just a process of informing us of his decision, it was not a consultation because he [Zuma] came with a ready made list,” Ramaphosa said.
“I raised my concerns and objection on the removal of the minister of finance … largely because he was being removed based on an intelligence report that I believe had unsubstantiated allegations about the minister and his deputy.”
He confirmed that the document, described as “shoddy” by the SA Communist Party (SACP), claimed Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas, who was also fired in the reshuffle, were trying to mobilise financial markets against the South African government.
“I found totally unacceptable that such a person who served the country with such distinction would do something like that. ”
Earlier, African National Congress secretary general Gwede Mantashe, in an unprecedented concession, said the ANC’s top six had been unable to stop Zuma.
Mantashe told a radio station that the reshuffle made him “uncomfortable”, and that he did not know where the new Cabinet was formulated or by whom, a possible reference to Jonas’s revelation a year ago that the Gupta family meddled in ministerial appointments.
On Friday, Jonas quipped to reporters: “It seems like some families have become a national interest.”
Fired tourism minister Derek Hanekom hinted of a political battle to come, and Barbara Hogan, who was fired by Zuma as a minister in an earlier reshuffle, said the official memorial for her partner, anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada could not go ahead on Saturday with a “rogue” president running the country.
Hogan is one of a group of 100 ANC struggle veterans who have urged the ruling party to alter course. On Friday they said Zuma’s claim that the reshuffle was needed to bring economic transformation were disingenuous as the resulting damage to the economy would hit the poor hard.
“This is not about so-called white monopoly capital… the decline in the rand affects the value of every worker’s pension and can only negatively impact on the most vulnerable of our society. The scope and scale of the reshuffle could regrettably be seen as a factional move to undermine attempts to honestly confront the crisis the country and our movement faces.”
Academic and political analyst Stephen Friedman said Ramaphosa and Mantashe had the freedom to speak out, and if the former had not done so, it would have stripped him of his credibility, already compromised by times when he could have taken position against the president and did not.
“I think he [Ramaphosa] is really in a position where he has to do this and Zuma can’t remove the deputy president of the country, same as he cannot remove the secretary general of the ANC. They have a certain freedom of movement.”
But Friedman questioned whether beyond the public statements lay a clear strategy that could see them win the factional battle playing out in the ruling party.
While the words of Ramaphosa and other prominent party members created a powerful impression, Zuma’s chosen candidate to succeed him as party leader at the end of the year, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and ANC Woman’s League leader Bathabile Dlamini were purposefully campaigning in branches.
And he noted that in December 2015 months ago, Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and replaced him with Des van Rooyen, he bowed to pressure from ANC leaders and key figures in business and politics days later and put Gordhan in the key portfolio.
“This time I don’t think it is not going to be undone in just four days.”