In the eye of the storm

THIS was meant to be a quiet week after the drama of the local government elections and with the last of the municipal councils taking shape.

It was a time for South Africa to take a breather and have the opportunity to reflect on the massive political shift unfolding in the country.

Alas, it was not to be.

The week started off with high drama at the first sitting of the Johannesburg City Council, marred by allegations that an ANC councillor had tried to bribe members of the Economic Freedom Fighters to vote in favour of his party’s speaker and mayoral candidates.

The sitting dragged on into the night, with the eventual election of Johannesburg’s first Democratic Alliance mayor Herman Mashaba. The ANC’s fall from grace was exacerbated by the death of one of its councillors in the hall, causing shock and grief, and throwing a pall over the sitting.

Then on Tuesday, the country reeled as news broke that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and former South African Revenue Service officials Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg had been ordered to present themselves to the Hawks on Thursday for warning statements, which are usually precursors to charges being laid.

The value of the rand plummeted dramatically as the markets took fright about the prospect of another attempt to hijack the national Treasury, as had happened in December when Nhlanhla Nene was fired.

With Gordhan facing the prospect of arrest on trumped-up charges, South Afric­a is again being placed in peril with more long-term damage to the economy.

The stinging message delivered by voters to the ANC on 3 August was seemingly not effective enough to stop reckless behaviour and the abuse of state institutions for political ends.

To his credit, Gordhan has refused to be bullied into submitting himself to a process based on illogical allegations with no basis in law. The problem with him “presenting himself” to the Hawks is that they would have given him a warning statement and left him dangling for months as they try to stitch up a case against him.

The status of a “suspect” would have been undesirable for a finance minister, and it is probable that President Jacob Zuma might then have taken a decision to remove Gordhan from Cabinet.

Unless you are extremely naïve, this process would not be just an unfortunate turn of events but a carefully hatched plan to grab control of the Treasury.

Gordhan’s decision not to present himself to the Hawks puts the onus on the police unit to come up with proper charges to pursue a prosecution against him.

Zuma responded to the widespread alarm and anger over the Hawks’ harassment of Gordhan on Thursday, saying he did not have the powers to stop investigations against anyone.

“The negative effect of these matters on our economy, personal pressure on the individuals affected as well as the heads of institutions, however disturbing, cannot be cause for the president to intervene unconstitutionally,” the presidency said in a statement.

Zuma also expressed his “full support and confidence” in Gordhan.

Unfortunately for the president, he no longer enjoys the trust and confidence of the people he leads. Many people distrust Zuma’s motives and do not believe that he acts in the interests of the country.

The message delivered by ANC veteran Sipho Piyana at the funeral of former minister Makhenkesi Stofile this week that Zuma was “no longer honourable” and had “humiliated our organisation” has had widespread resonance.

Pityana was bold enough to voice the concerns and betrayal that many ANC members were feeling, but were forced to suppress.

The events of this week show that the period of calm and stability that many of us desire is a long way off.

We are now in the eye of the storm with major political battles about to be fought for control of the ANC and the country.

Brace yourself.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.


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