Jacob Zuma's Gordhan Conundrum


File: President Jacob Zuma (R) and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan talk on March 27, 2013 during the 5th BRICS summit in Durban.

This time around, who will President Zuma send to ward off SA’s downgrade – possibly to junk status? The president has a real problem on his hands, doesn’t he?

In the aftermath of Nenegate, Zuma was happy to let Pravin Gordhan (his forced appointee as Finance Minister) do the hard slog of convincing the global financial community that our country remained committed to a path of fiscal prudence and rectitude.

And the central theme of the story was that Gordhan himself was best suited to ensure that we stayed on course.

Today the markets must be scratching their collective head. According to the elite law-enforcement agency in his own country, the man sold to them as “Mr Probity” might have dirt on his hands after all!

As per the rumoured charge sheet put together by the Hawks, now with the nation’s chief prosecutor, the finance minister is a suspect in misdemeanors which apparently occurred during his previous stints at Treasury and the SA Revenue Service.

Until the charges come to light in a court of law, we will never know with certainty what laws Gordhan is alleged to have broken, if any. And we should probably refrain from blindly declaring his innocence or guilt, which in our system still remains the province of the courts.

TIMELINE: Treasury troubles

But we can talk about the deleterious effect of the whispering campaign on the country as a whole, and how those who lend us money will read this?

For starters why should the markets, as well as our trading partners, trust a man who, as per  the Hawks, has a cloud of corruption over his head, and is trailed by the pungent whiff of impropriety?

And when he presents his October Medium-Term Budget (assuming he will not have been arrested or dismissed by then), will anybody take him seriously, knowing he is living on borrowed time? 

He serves, after all, at the pleasure of a president who has made it clear he preferred someone else for the job.

In the face of all this, Zuma’s only response has been to declare tersely his “confidence” in Gordhan. But given the minister’s rumoured arrest, what exactly did the president mean? Was he referring to Gordhan’s technical competency as head of Treasury? Or was he expressing a belief, being presumably privy to the allegations against Gordhan, that the mooted charges did not hold much water?

Correctly, the president said he did not have the powers to stop criminal investigations into individuals.

But there’s something else the president does have powers over, to which he cannot be a disinterested spectator.  It is greater than either Pravin Gordhan or his tormentor Berning Ntlemeza. It is bigger also than Shaun Abrahams at the National Prosecuting Authority.

It is the governmental chaos arising from the stand-off between Gordhan, the Hawks and now the NPA, which threatens the stability of the country and the economic well-being of all its citizens.

When taking his oath of office, which he has done not once but twice, the president swore to always promote all that will advance the Republic and to “oppose all that may harm it.”

As matters stand today, what can be more harmful to the republic than the destruction of its economy?

In this greater context, the president’s Pilate-like response, relating only to the Gordhan –Hawks matter, is clearly inadequate.

It is even more so given the conspiracy theories doing the rounds, which we presume he is fully aware of, some of which implicate him.

As head of state and of government, it surely is his responsibility to deal with the consequences of the Gordhan saga, as well as ending the dysfunctionality prevailing in government.

In the absence of a forthright and comprehensive response, the president must pardon those who speculate about the reasons and motive of the investigations into the Finance Minister.

After all, the country has witnessed such Machiavellian machinations before, especially in the run-up to and post the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007. Examples of this being the so-called Spy Tapes matter and the political partisanship of the NPA, the Scorpions and the police’s crime intelligence division.

Which takes us to the underlying issue to all of this – the failure of the ANC in government to run the state coherently and, crucially, to insulate key criminal justice agencies from party factional manipulation. To be fair, this a phenomenon that pre-dates the Zuma presidency.

We now seem to be back on the same destructive path, in a situation described by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as “a government (waging) war against itself”. Look at Eskom against Treasury, or cabinet colleagues Des van Rooyen and Gordhan.

But to return to the matter at hand, what will the president do to prevent the country’s demotion to junk status by December? Assuming he has nothing to do with Gordhan’s troubles, as his office has insisted, will he send the same man to sell the South Africa Inc. story to the world? And how, if certain arms of his own government are set on demolishing the messenger’s integrity?

ALSO FROM MIKE SILUMA: Loot grabbing and our Trump-esque Local Elections