Ramaphosa is running out of excuses not to fire Gigaba

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Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba.
Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba.

Malusi Gigaba's situation has taken a turn for the worse with two critical rulings against him in just a few days after, but unrelated to, the leak of what for him was a private mouthwatering item, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

To rehash an overused saying, "it never rains but pours" for Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gibaba. For obvious reasons, his name is on the lips (or is it in the mouth?) of nearly all who follow current affairs.

He is the butt of the joke. A subject of unkind memes. An icebreaker when strangers struggle to crack a conversation. And a default subject when the weather doesn't cut it.

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But the scandal on its own wouldn't necessarily bring a politician down. Certainly not in South Africa. Our moral threshold is reasonably friendly. Otherwise, Jacob Zuma wouldn't have tasted power.

Gigaba's situation has taken a turn for the worse with two critical rulings against him in just a few days after, but unrelated to, the leak of what for him was a private mouthwatering item.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has given Parliament and the president deadlines to indicate steps to be taken against Gigaba for lying under oath in the Fireblade matter. The Constitutional Court has rejected Gigaba's appeal against a lower court's judgment that he had lied under oath.

His conduct was a violation of the Constitution he swore to uphold as well as the Executive Code of Ethics that should guide his behaviour as a minister. The decisions by Mkhwebane and the Constitutional Court means President Cyril Ramaphosa has an opportunity to get a new Minister of Home Affairs by replacing Gigaba in a way that won't be perceived as a removal of a Zuma appointee.

Ramaphosa no longer has an option. He would do well to exercise his authority or risk being found wanting himself. The DA is seeking an order to declare unconstitutional the president's decision to keep Gigaba and Bathabile Dlamini in Cabinet. Both were found by the courts to have lied under oath.

The dilemma for Ramaphosa is that both were hardcore supporters of the Zuma project and as a unifier he wants to be perceived to be uniting all factions. Their presence in Cabinet, notwithstanding their shortcomings, is Ramaphosa's demonstration of magnanimity towards those who might have been aggrieved by Zuma's forced resignation as president.

Ramaphosa's political stance in this regard makes sense – but only up to a certain point. He doesn't have to stretch his unity agenda if doing so strips him of decisiveness. He is working well with other government leaders who didn't support his presidential bit and were campaigning for it themselves. For example, his relationship with Minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma seems mature.

Dlamini-Zuma is focused on her job, especially on matters of governance. It almost seems unthinkable that she was once the front-runner for the top job with Jacob Zuma and his crew as backers and campaign managers. Her contribution in turning around the governance situation in North West is remarkable – at least when observed from a distance.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu, another former presidential contender, is trying to restore South Africa's credibility in international relations. Jeff Radebe, who also fancied himself as a presidential contender, is leading the energy portfolio in Cabinet and was recently tasked with overseeing the process to appoint the head of the National Prosecuting Authority.

If Ramaphosa were to release Gigaba and Dlamini from Cabinet, it would be hard for anyone to accuse him of settling scores or purging. The case against them is in the public domain. Similarly, it would be hard for anyone to cry political conspiracy if punished for participating in the VBS looting frenzy.

If anything, the ANC stands a better chance under Ramaphosa to secure a landslide victory in the next election if, in the runup to the election, it is seen to be uncompromising on matters of corruption and ethical conduct especially against its own members. Despite leading a party characterised by fractious factions, Ramaphosa has an opportunity to turn the many crises facing the country into successes.

The fact that South Africa's crises are visible in the eyes of the public should make Ramaphosa's job easy. He has done well getting big companies to come out of the sulking mode into which they were consigned by Zuma and the Guptas. The investment strike, Ramaphosa declared at the investment summit, is over. So was the characterisation of big companies as white monopoly capital, i.e. the enemy.

We are clearly moving away from the age of ignorance where, despite the fierce competition for investments all over the world, we thought we had the luxury on the southern tip of the African continent to chase away our own homegrown investors. Some of our companies boast expertise their competitors in other jurisdictions can only wish.

Instead of directing this positive aspect of our economy to good use, we spent nearly 10 years disparaging what is essentially our comparative advantage. Ramaphosa has begun to undo the harm, but he should be careful not to be dictated too much by circumstances.

On matters of Cabinet suitability, where he has full authority, he doesn't have to act only when it looks pretty obvious what is required of him. Good leadership is about thinking and looking ahead of the rest.

- Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.

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