TEAM ZUMA TO GORDHAN: NO ARREST, JUST CHILL
Senior government official says: He is not going anywhere. It is just paranoia on his part. There is nothing that warrants his arrest
Divisions over the future of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan are deepening within the government and ANC alliance, with hardline positions being taken by those who back him and those who support President Jacob Zuma, in what is seen as a battle for control of the nation’s purse. Those sympathetic to Zuma warned this week that, although Gordhan would not be arrested or fired any time soon, he could find himself isolated if he continued with his “paranoia”.
This week, Gordhan took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement asking for public support for Treasury, after reports emerged that he was going to be arrested in connection with the setting up of an investigative unit at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) while he was at its helm.
In the statement, following a Sunday Times report about his imminent arrest, Gordhan appealed to all South Africans to protect National Treasury staff, “who have diligently, honestly and skilfully served the national interest to the best of their ability”.
The presidency, along with state institutions the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority, have played down the prospect of an imminent arrest, but their denials have been met with widespread scepticism.
Although Zuma reappointed Gordhan as finance minister in December – after having appointed Des van Rooyen to the post and then, under duress, redeployed him – his recent comments about Van Rooyen having been “the most qualified” finance minister suggest that the president is still bitter at having been forced to retract that appointment.
Zuma told the Gauteng ANC provincial general council last weekend that he was shocked that his “comrades” did not agree with Van Rooyen’s appointment on the grounds that there was no consultation.
“There has never been a consultation before appointing a minister,” he said, adding that it was an indication that many people in the ANC did not understand power.
SA Communist Party (SACP) second deputy secretary Solly Mapaila told City Press that there was a political agenda regarding how Gordhan was being dealt with.
“When Pravin established this unit, he did it in good faith, for the sake of the country,” he said.
“Our broad understanding is that the unit has been doing well and has been able to penetrate and make accountable some of the hardened syndicates who are dealing in illicit trade and exchanges – and, as a result, these people are going to pay something to the state, and that is very important.”
But senior government officials said that there was no imminent threat of Gordhan being arrested or fired from his post, adding that “either he is genuinely scared, or he is being mischievous”.
“He is not going anywhere. It is just paranoia on his part. There is nothing that warrants his arrest.
“He was being asked [by the Hawks] questions as a former accounting head of department that the [Sars] unit belonged to. All of us can be asked to account for departments we worked for 10 years ago,” said an official.
Another said that Zuma could not be in competition with a Cabinet minister because, as president, he controlled all departments.
However, he cited concerns that Gordhan regarded himself as a “superminister who was untouchable”, a situation that could lead to his isolation.
Gordhan’s statement, on a government letterhead, is said to have hardened attitudes towards him in some ANC quarters, as he was seen to be seeking public protection from his own party comrades and government colleagues.
A deputy minister said that those threatening Gordhan were hoping enough pressure would be applied on him to leave voluntarily.
“Unfortunately, because of the backing he has, it will be difficult for him to be let go. He has a lot of backing even outside the ANC,” said the deputy minister.
Another leader sympathetic to Gordhan said that this was “a fight Zuma is waging because he is not the one that appointed him; big business did”.
“That is why Zuma would always try to defend his decision and argue that he, in fact, had someone more qualified for the job, and was instead chastised for it. “His powers were rendered useless.” He added that it was important that in his last term in the presidency, Zuma had a pliable person in the finance department “who can okay things and facilitate”.
“In this last term, we have big projects, so you need someone you can trust, someone you know will not be an obstacle.
“Because of the way he was appointed, it is not easy to trust him. It is not easy to believe that he would be able to move fast in approving some of these big projects that government wants effected,” he said.
The leader said that it would be difficult for Zuma to remove Gordhan because “the ANC has consistently taken a clear position that the reasons behind the lobbying for his removal have nothing to do with his performance”.
Mapaila said that the onslaught against Gordhan was part of a pattern of targeting former liberation fighters, such as former Hawks chief Anwa Dramat, former police investigations head Robert McBride and Denel chief executive officer Riaz Saloojee.
“They are pursued with such gusto, you cannot believe. But when others commit mistakes, it is a normal mistake. You could see there is a targeted posture with some of these comrades. Literally, they are just being forced out. We cannot keep quiet about some of these things,” he said.
This week, the SACP alleged that Hawks head Major-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza was serving political and factional agendas. The party said that Ntlemeza had been overheard saying he had a “new mandate”, which they claimed was to harass SACP members.
The Hawks denied the claim and challenged the SACP to open a case and present their evidence in court.
Mapaila said that the person who overheard Ntlemeza would file an affidavit tomorrow.
A senior alliance leader said the belief within the ANC was that the Guptas were now targeting the Public Investment Corporation, which is chaired by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas. Jonas revealed earlier this year that the Guptas had tried to offer him former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s job shortly before he was fired. He and Gordhan are seen by the family as “stumbling blocks” to this agenda.
“The investment corporation is sitting on R1.7 trillion, and the Guptas would want to influence the kind of investments that money is directed towards,” he said.
Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said her comment earlier this week – that Gordhan should remember, in preparing his budget, that this was not England – was not directed at the finance minister, but at Treasury as a department.
“Pravin has a department, and the department has got individuals,” she said.
“Even in terms of accountability, the directors-general are accounting officers. When something does not go right, the Attorney-General does not go for the jugular of the minister, he will go for the jugular of the director-general,” she said.
Zulu said that she had had engagements with Gordhan about her concerns with the budget and the slow pace of transformation. “I never used any strong language against him. Nowhere in my speech or anywhere did I say Pravin Gordhan. I spoke about Treasury.”
She said that “the conversation was about small businesses and the money not enough, and it did not start with Pravin”. She also engaged Nene on the matter. But Zuma supporters are adamant that Gordhan’s continued stay in power plays into the hands of “white monopoly capital”, even going as far as saying that the pressure applied on the president to reverse Van Rooyen’s appointment amounted to a coup.
“So who appointed Pravin if our president is washing his hands? He made it clear that the powers that be came and challenged his decision,” said a KwaZulu-Natal insider.
“So, it means that Pravin was imposed. Who are these agents of power who can confront our president and make him change his decision? It means that there was a coup in South African politics – literally, a coup.”
A senior ANC national executive committee member said Treasury had long been captured by big business and that Zuma had touched a nerve when he appointed Van Rooyen.
“It was not an accident that, when the president appointed Van Rooyen, the big white monopoly made noise and even withdrew money from South Africa. So we had to reverse the decision. The crisis was manufactured,” he said.
POWER PLAY President Jacob Zuma
PRESSURE Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan