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President Jacob Zuma is apparently determined to fire Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, telling the ANC’s top officials that there was an irretrievable breakdown in their relationship. While the officials, including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, accepted his explanation, they advised Zuma that he could not fire Gordhan and retain the poorly performing ministers in the Cabinet. The officials also rejected Brian Molefe as the candidate to replace Gordhan. While the president has undertaken to think through the matter, South Africa will have the opportunity to mourn and lay to rest Struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
As it turned out, Pravin Gordhan and his director-general Lungisa Fuzile flew back to South Africa from London on Monday night for no reason whatsoever. The axe that looms over Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas’s heads did not fall on Tuesday, as expected. In fact, Gordhan, Jonas and Fuzile were apparently puzzled about whether they needed to present themselves to the Presidency or wait to be contacted.
It is understood that Zuma wants to fire Gordhan and Jonas, and to suspend Fuzile. It is unclear what the grounds for Fuzile’s suspension would be. The message sent to Gordhan in London was that he and the director-general should return to South Africa.
On a day when the country was coming to terms with the death of former Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada, it also had to contend with rumours that Gordhan had resigned and try to figure out why he and Fuzile were at the ANC’s headquarters, Luthuli House. As the director-general of the National Treasury, it was particularly confounding as to why Fuzile was at the party offices.
But if there is anything the Zuma presidency has taught us, it is that logic and rationality have little to do with what happens in politics.
The question remains: why was the international investor roadshow to the United Kingdom and United States abruptly cancelled when it targeted multitrillion-rand worth of investment? In a statement on Tuesday, the Treasury said that in eight hours in London, Gordhan and his delegation had five face-to-face meetings with 60 representatives of fund managers including BlackRock, T.Rowe, Aberdeen, Eaton Vance, Vanguard, Investec, Metlife and Apollona, and 28 investors in a combined lunch. They also met rating agencies Fitch and Moody’s and had a teleconference with Standard & Poors.
According to the Treasury, the top concerns raised by the ratings agencies and investors were around economic growth, fiscal policy and South Africa’s politics. The latter concern could not have been helped much by Zuma’s instruction that the trip be cancelled and that Gordhan should return home.
So why did Zuma do it? Was it simply to humiliate Gordhan and Jonas, and show them who’s boss? Or did Gordhan do something to infuriate Zuma, prompting him to rescind authorisation for the trip?
Zuma’s assertion that there is an irretrievable breakdown in his relations with Gordhan suggests that there was a tipping point. Considering the timing of Zuma’s decision to recall the Treasury team, it could be Gordhan’s comments at a breakfast event on Friday that annoyed the president.