Mahlatse Gallens

Zuma’s fightback has started

2017-03-28 13:35

President Jacob Zuma has started his fightback.

Yesterday, he reasserted his authority in government by recalling Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan from an international investor road show to market South Africa. Shortly before this, he took charge of two crucial inter-ministerial committees. 

So far, he has failed to give reasons for Gordhan’s recall, leaving it open to speculation. The Presidency released a one sentence statement announcing that the finance minister and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, had been ordered to return to the country immediately. 

“President Jacob Zuma has instructed the Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan and Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas to cancel the international investment promotion road show to the United Kingdom and the United States and to return to South Africa immediately,” a statement read. 

Gordhan’s cancelled trip has put the nation on tenterhooks, with speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle rife. Some of his staunchest supporters say it is set to happen this week.

The decision also appears to have caught ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe off guard. Zuma and Mantashe were at the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this past weekend, after which Mantashe held the shortest post NEC meeting in months, taking only one round of questions for which he had very few answers. 

The ANC knew nothing about the decision as it was a government matter, Mantashe told reporters.

But it appears Zuma is fighting back at whatever the cost to the party, government or economy. This despite speculations that should he drop the axe on Gordhan, there will be resignations en masse led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphsoa with Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom leaving his Cabinet but remaining as members of Parliament.

On the same day, Zuma announced that he is taking charge of government communications. The Presidency released a statement that he was reconstituting the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Information and Publicity – “responsible for championing and coordinating the work of government with regards to communicating government programmes”.

The Presidency said that Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, who has addressed post Cabinet media briefings, would no longer chair the committee now renamed the Committee on Communications.  

Zuma instead reaffirmed one of his strongest allies in Cabinet – Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. 

This is a slap in the face of Parliament, who recommended that he censures Muthambi for her role in the crisis at the SABC. This is the same minister who faced a revolt from government communicators soon after she was appointed in her position. They accused her of not understanding the government system.

A government official said this was a significant move by Zuma. Another communicator said it signalled that “something big” was going to happen. 

“Jeff Radebe has ambitions to be president, so he was seen as profiling himself during the post Cabinet briefings, so the president is clipping his wings,” the official said.  

An NEC member said during the weekend’s NEC meeting Zuma had complained about both ANC and government communications, saying that the party’s agenda on communications is driven by media and that their communicators are not pro-active enough to explain issues.

This, according to Zuma, lead to the ANC sometimes contradicting government and feeding into the picture that government is at war with itself. 

At the height of the Sassa debacle over the distribution of grants, Zuma also announced that he will now chair the inter-ministerial committee on social security.

His supporters argue that the time is ripe for a Cabinet reshuffle in the face of the competition commission finding that the banks had colluded over the rand, and Moody’s paying a fine after it admitted to false credit ratings ahead of the 2008 financial crisis. 

“They have now scored their own goals, the banks, the ratings agencies and all. He can now reshuffle,” the source says. 

The longer he postpones the reshuffle, the longer he appears as a lame duck, his supporters argue.

Zuma has always made it clear that Gordhan was not his choice. Will he finally get rid of him?

- Mahlatse Gallens is political editor at News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    pravin gordhan  |  jacob zuma  |  cabinet reshuffle
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