Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma is weaker after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, says political analyst Daniel Silke.
On October 11, NPA head Shaun Abrahams announced that Gordhan had to appear before court on November 2 on a charge related to the early retirement of former South African Revenue Service (Sars) deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.
Former Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula and Pillay were also ordered to appear before court. Legal experts criticised Abrahams’ decision while speculation emerged of political interference.
But in an about-turn, Abrahams announced on Monday that he had reviewed and set aside a decision announced on October 11 to charge Gordhan for fraud.
The step-down could mark further weakening for Zuma, who appointed Abrahams as NPA head in 2015.
Zuma has had to deal with a range of scandals such as costly upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, his close ties to the Gupta family and his firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene last year.
"I do see it as a weakening of President Zuma. I think we've seen this weakening on an ongoing basis over the course of the last year,” Silke told Fin24.
“It would have been much easier for President Zuma to hang a Cabinet reshuffle - which would involve shifting Pravin Gordhan out of his position - on the premise of pending legal charges that had some sort of base. It's become a lot more difficult now for President Zuma to act on Pravin Gordhan.
"I would argue in fact that while Zuma has ultimate authority, the window in which he operates looks as though it's been closed to some degree. It's become more difficult for Jacob Zuma to take substantial decisions, especially on the composition of his Cabinet,” Silke told Fin24.
He added that Zuma “doesn't seem to have the requisite amount of political power that perhaps he once had”.
The saga around the NPA’s charging of Gordhan and subsequent dropping of charges could signal further changes for South Africa’s top leadership, said Silke.
Several civil society organisations, business leaders and even sitting ANC politicians have thrown their weight behind Gordhan.
"The reprieve for Gordhan, I would argue, is based upon an interesting coalition of forces that has occurred in South Africa over the last few months,” said Silke.
"And I think we have seen a very interesting move where those inside the ANC and outside the ANC have largely agreed upon the need to protect Gordhan and to protect the independence of the Treasury.
"And I think that coalition indeed is very important for setting the scene for a more substantive coalition of interests who could elect a particular president or be influential in electing a successor to President Zuma for next year.
"If these different elements of the coalition can continue to pressurise along common points of understanding or common ground, this could extend beyond the Pravin Gordhan issue to another issue about who will be the next president of South Africa,” said Silke.
South Africa’s political scene has heated up amid a much-awaited ANC elective conference next year.
The ruling ANC has dominated South Africa’s political landscape since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.