File photo: Zuma embarked on an offensive charm this weekend in his home province of KZN. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma’s decision to axe Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas from the National Treasury has plunged the crisis-ridden ANC into further turmoil.

Amid a groundswell of resistance and revolt from within the ANC, opposition, parties and civil society organisations hit at Zuma’s controversial decision to fire five ministers and deputies in a purge described as the “night of the long knives”, and the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal and North West said he was going nowhere.

This came as Zuma embarked on an offensive charm this weekend in his home province of KZN. Zuma was in the province for the launch of the Aloe Ridge Westgate Grange social/rental housing project, the biggest in the country. The move was described by some ANC national executive committee (NEC) members as part of his “strategy to consolidate regional power”.

Acting premier Sihle Zikalala said on Saturday that the ANC in KZN supported Zuma’s decision to change the cabinet and they were happy with the new ministers.

“I’ve been hearing people making comments about the recent cabinet reshuffle but what I know is that leadership is a relay; so, when you lead there will come a time when you have to hand over the baton to someone else.

“In politics no one can rule forever. the only people who are born to lead until death are kings and chiefs and we accept that,” he said.

MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Mxolisi Kaunda also pinned his colours to Zuma’s flag to thunderous applause and ululation.

The ANC in the North West said the decision to fire Gordhan and Jonas was in “the best interest of the country”. Provincial secretary Dakota Legoete accused former president Kgalema Motlanthe of “playing to the gallery” for his address at the Ahmed Kathrada funeral on Tuesday, when he appeared to endorse Kathrada’s call last year that Zuma step down.

But Zuma will have to wade through a storm to calm down the outrage that has followed his decision. Two ANC NEC members told The Sunday Independent that Zuma must brace himself for “mass action” to force him to resign immediately for his unceremonious decision to fire Gordhan and Jonas.

“The right forces are coming together to embark on massive resistance. It will recapture the organisation from the claws of Zuma and the Guptas,” said an NEC member. We have a co-group that is co-ordinating the strategy. It’s not just a concern, there will be action. We have to save the organisation and the country.”

He said Zuma’s reasoning that he had the prerogative to reshuffle his cabinet was a constitutional principle did not hold because he, as a deployee of the ANC in government, was accountable to the party.

“We will expose the internal limitations of the presidency. People say he has a prerogative according to the constitution but that power comes from the party,” said the NEC member, who is a member of the constitution committee.

The president relied on a so-called intelligence report, alleging that the pair were planning to use the international investor’s roadshows to the UK and US to mobilise the financial markets against the government for sacking them.

Another NEC member questioned this, saying Zuma had recently, while dismissing calls to fire Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini over the social grants tender scandal, as well as former communications minister Faith Muthambi, said South Africa would be “a funny democracy” if he fired her without evidence.

“The president himself said this recently when he said what kind of a democracy is that. He said this is a ‘funny democracy’, and (allegations should be tested). Why against Pravin and Mcebisi on the basis of untested allegations?”

He said this showed that Zuma was was motivated by ulterior motives when he axed Gordhan and Jonas. The NEC member said Deputy Minister Cyril Ramaphosa had raised this inconsistency during Zuma’s meeting with the ANC top six at Luthuli House on Tuesday.

“In his (Ramaphosa’s) view, the report contained untested allegations against Pravin and Mcebisi.

Ramaphosa and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe were quick to express their unhappiness with Zuma’s decision publicly. The Sunday Independent understands that the pair had told Zuma that given the dissent around the reshuffle, they would raise their objection on public platforms.

“It was necessary to indicate he didn’t agree on the basis of spurious allegations. The list (of the reshuffle) was done with a fait accompli.”

ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle briefing “left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre and thus depriving the leadership collective of its responsibility to advise politically on executive matters”.

The ANC leadership needed to “seriously apply its mind and express a collective view to these developments”.

In Joburg yesterday, Zuma came under heavy criticism for his decision, with Gordhan tearing into him for relying on “a very unintelligent intelligence report” to fire him from the ministry. He admitted that he was “unashamedly encouraging mass mobilisation” against the president, saying the country was a vibrant society with a “strong history in mass mobilisation to ensure people shall govern”.

He also shed light on the nuclear deal, saying they were asked about it during the international investment roadshow in the UK, from which he was recalled by Zuma on the basis of a discredited intelligence report.

Gordhan was delivering the keynote address at ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada’s memorial service held at the Johannesburg City Hall yesterday. It was organised by the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela foundations and the SACP in Gauteng.

This after the government issued a statement postponing its official memorial service for the struggle icon, which was also scheduled for yesterday. Gordhan slammed the government’s decision as “petty and spiteful”.

Zuma cited enhancing “efficiency” for axing Gordhan and Jonas and other ministers and deputies on Thursday night. However, Gordhan rubbished that and said the roadshows were held every year after the Budget Speech.

The purpose was to meet and reassure investors who had injected trillions of rand into the economy.

He also cleared the air on allegations that a Russian called Mr Chenkov kept asking about the nuclear programme, before allegedly calling someone in South Africa, thus prompting Gordhan’s recall from the trip.

He said: “One lady asked where we are going with nuclear; we have a standard response that nuclear is part of the energy mix (and will be implemented) at a scale and pace we can afford.”

Gordhan said a Russian gentleman whose name started with a “C” phoned some in South Africa and they were then told to cancel the trip and come back home immediately.

Gordhan revealed that his phone is tapped.

Kathrada’s widow and former minister Barbara Hogan criticised Zuma for recalling Gordhan from the roadshow, who she described as “one of our finest finance ministers”. The hall erupted into chants of “Zuma Must Go!” when Hogan, an anti-apartheid heroine in her right, said Zuma had “sacrificed everything we stood for on the altar of greed and corruption”.

“Mr President, if you had ears to hear and eyes to see you would step down as Kathy would want,” she said to more rapturous applause.

“This country is not for sale,” she said, as she stepped down from the podium. SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila also called on Zuma to step down, saying the ANC needed to choose between Zuma and the citizens.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Independent understands that Ramaphosa had opted not to resign as he was worried that “defining himself outside of the government would leave him incapacitated from confronting the challenges from inside”. This, said the source, also applies to the likes of the ministers of higher education and health, Blade Nzimande and Aaron Motsoaledi respectively.

“There was a general feeling that it may not be proper at this stage.” – Additional reporting by Nokuthula Ntuli and Lungani Zungu.

Sunday Independent